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In some cases, the doctor needs to help labor begin by using:

  • Medication
  • Other procedures

Inducing labor is done instead of waiting for your body to go into labor on its own.

Reasons for Procedure  ^

The most common reason to have an induction is that the pregnancy has gone 2 or more weeks past the due date (or at the due date with twins). In this situation, the baby may:

  • Get too large for a vaginal delivery
  • Not receive enough oxygen through the placenta (the organ that links the mother and the baby)

Other reasons for induction include:

Possible Complications  ^

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:

  • Stalled labor—If the medication does not trigger labor, you may need a cesarean section (C-section).
  • Strong contractions—The medication that causes contractions could make them too strong. Although rare, this can lead to fetal distress and uterine rupture. In the event that your contractions are too strong, your doctor will lower the dose or stop the medication.

Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.

What to Expect  ^

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 medications 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

Cervical Ripening

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 medication. Medication may be a:

  • Gel that is applied to the cervix
  • Suppository put in the vagina
  • Pill taken by mouth

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:

  • Strip the membranes (separate your cervix from the tissues around the baby’s head)
  • Expand a small balloon-tipped catheter in the cervix
  • Place small cylinders that contain a type of sponge-like seaweed into the cervix

Changes in the Cervix During Pregnancy

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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 medications are available for an induced labor as for a spontaneous delivery, including:

  • Pain medication given into your vein
  • Epidural block
  • Spinal block
  • Local anesthesia

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 (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.

Postoperative Care

The care after an induced labor is the same as for a spontaneous birth.

Call Your Doctor  ^

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:

  • An unexplained fever of 100.4 degrees Farenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or above in the first 2 weeks
  • Soaking more than 1 sanitary napkin an hour or if the bleeding level increases
  • Wounds that become red, swollen, or drain pus
  • New pain, swelling, or tenderness in your legs
  • Hot-to-the-touch, significantly reddened, sore breasts
  • Any cracking or bleeding from the nipple or areola (the dark-colored area of the breast)
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination or a sudden urge to urinate, inability to control urination
  • Increasing pain in the vaginal area
  • Cough or chest pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Depression, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, or any thoughts of harming your baby

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services


Health Canada

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: Accessed December 28, 2016.

Longer hospital stays for childbirth. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at Updated February 3, 2010. Accessed December 28, 2016.

Morey SS. ACOG develops guidelines for induction of labor. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jul 15;62(2):445. Available at: Accessed December 28, 2016.

Last reviewed December 2016 by Andrea Chisholm, MD  Last Updated: 5/20/2015

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