Medical Induction of Labor
by Alia Bucciarelli, MS
In some cases, the doctor needs to help labor begin by using:
Inducing labor is done instead of waiting for your body to go into labor on its own. In the US, nearly one in five labors is induced.
Reasons for Procedure
The most common reason to have an induction is that the pregnancy has gone two or more weeks past the due date. In this situation, the baby may:
Other reasons for induction include:
Possible Complications TOP
The same complications that may occur when labor begins on its own may also occur during induced delivery. Risks associated with the medications used for labor induction include the following:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
The same instructions used when labor begins on its own also apply to induced labor. But, there are some differences. Do not eat too much before arriving at the hospital. It is okay to have clear fluids. The medicines can create very strong contractions and could upset your stomach. Contractions slow the digestive process, so your stomach will remain full. This can cause a problem if you need general anesthesia.
Description of the Procedure
To deliver your baby vaginally, the cervix will need to “ripen.” This means it needs to soften, thin, and open to prepare for delivery. If your cervix is not doing this already, your doctor may aid this process by giving you medicine. Medicine may be a:
The cervical ripening process can last up to a few days.
There are also procedures that your doctor may try to aid cervical ripening, such as:
If contractions have not started when your cervix is ripe, your doctor will give you a drug that causes contractions. The drug is a man-made version of a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is produced by your body during active labor. The drug will be adjusted during labor to strengthen or weaken the contractions. After contractions begin, the labor and birth process will be the same as when labor begins on its own.
The same pain medicines are available for an induced labor as for a spontaneous delivery, including:
Immediately After Procedure
If everything goes well, you will vaginally deliver a healthy baby after the induction.
How Long Will It Take?
It can be hours to several days (very rarely) from the time you are induced until the delivery. If your cervix is not ripe when you are scheduled for the induction, labor and delivery could take 2-3 days. It could take longer for first-time mothers and for pre-term babies.
How Much Will It Hurt?
Labor causes severe pain. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage the pain.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
The care after an induced labor is the same as for a spontaneous birth.
Call Your Doctor TOP
When you go home after having a vaginal delivery, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health Matters
Harman JH, Kim A. Current trends in cervical ripening and labor induction. Am Fam Physician . 1999;60:477-484.
Induction of Labor. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Practice Bulletin No. 107 . August 2009.
Facts about labor induction. Am Fam Physician . 1999 Aug 1;60(2):484. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/990800a.html . Accessed December 17, 2012.
Longer hospital stays for childbirth. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/hospbirth/hospbirth.htm . Updated November 18, 2009. Accessed December 17, 2012.
Morey SS. ACOG develops guidelines for induction of labor. Am Fam Physician . 2000 Jul 15;62(2):445. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000715/practice.html . Accessed December 17, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013