Induction of labor means getting childbirth started before it starts on its own. Sometimes inducing labor can help keep you and your baby healthy and may limit or avoid problems.
When is it used?
You may need to have labor started if you have:
High blood pressure caused by the pregnancy (preeclampsia)
Medical problems, such as kidney, lung, or heart disease
Labor may also need to be induced if:
It doesnâ€™t start on its own after your bag of water breaks.
The sac that holds the baby is infected.
The baby has been growing much more slowly than normal.
The babyâ€™s heart rate isnâ€™t completely normal.
There are problems with the placenta (tissue inside the uterus attached to the baby by the umbilical cord)
There is not enough amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds and cushions the baby)
The baby died before birth.
The pregnancy has gone 1 or more weeks past the due date.
You live far from a hospital and you have a history of fast labor.
If delivery through the birth canal (vagina) is not possible or safe for you or the baby, you may have a C-section instead of induced labor. Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.
How do I prepare for this procedure?
Before inducing labor, your healthcare provider will check the opening of your uterus (the cervix) to see if it is getting ready to allow the baby to go through. This helps your provider know how easy or difficult inducing labor might be. Your provider will also check the baby’s position. In some cases, especially if itâ€™s before your 39th week of pregnancy, your provider may want to check your baby’s lungs to make sure they are developed enough for the baby to breathe normally after birth. This can be done by testing a sample of amniotic fluid with a procedure called amniocentesis.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. You may be asked to avoid eating or drinking for some period of time before being admitted to the hospital. Tell your provider about any recent illnesses you have had or might have been exposed to.
What happens during the procedure?
Labor is usually induced at the hospital. There are several ways to get labor started:
Amniotomy is the term used for breaking the bag of water that holds the baby (the amniotic sac). Your healthcare provider will use a thin plastic rod to make a hole in the sac. Labor usually starts within 1 to 2 hours after the bag of water is broken.
Your provider may decide to start labor by giving you oxytocin through an IV. Oxytocin is a hormone that makes your uterus contract (squeeze). A monitor will measure your contractions.
If your cervix is not quite ready for labor, your provider may put a thin tube with a small balloon through your cervix. Your provider will inflate the balloon. Pressure from the balloon can help your cervix slowly start softening and opening. The balloon usually stays in place for several hours to prepare the cervix for labor while you are given a low dose of oxytocin to start contractions.
If your cervix is not quite ready, your provider also may choose to put a medicine in your vagina to help the cervix soften and open.
During the induction of labor, your contractions, your blood pressure, dilation of your cervix, and your baby’s heart rate will be monitored.
What are the risks of this procedure?
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Most risks can be prevented with close monitoring. If you or your baby start having problems, your provider may decide to deliver the baby by C-section. Some possible risks include:
Breaking the bag of water (amniotomy) early could increase the chance of an infection around the baby.
If labor is induced with oxytocin, there is a small risk that:
The baby will have start having an abnormal heart rate because the contractions are too strong or frequent, the umbilical cord is being squeezed, or there are problems with the placenta.
The umbilical cord will fall into the birth canal ahead of the baby’s head.
Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.
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Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-02-02 Last reviewed: 2014-01-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Induction of Labor: References
ACOG Practice Bulletin: Induction of Labor, Number 107, August 2009.
Cunningham, F., et al. Williams Obstetrics. 23rd ed. The Mcgraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2010.
Riley, LE, and A.R. Stark. Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 7th ed. AAP and ACOG. 2012.