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If your doctor or midwife has concerns about your health or your baby's health toward the end of your pregnancy, he or she might suggest speeding up the process. This is called inducing labor, or induction. Instead of waiting for labor to start naturally, your doctor or midwife will use drugs or a procedure to start it sooner.

Induction can be the right choice for some women, but it has risks. Most experts say it's best to let labor begin on its own and progress naturally unless there's a clear medical reason.

Why Is Labor Induced?

Induction is very common -- 1 out of 4 women in the U.S. starts labor with induction. Many times it's done for medical reasons. But some women are induced for convenience, either their own or their doctor's or midwife's. Most experts think that's a bad idea.

Why do some women need to have labor induced?

You are 1 to 2 weeks past your due date. After 41 weeks, you and your baby are at greater risk for complications.

Your water breaks but labor doesn’t start. Once your water breaks, you and your baby have a higher risk of infection. You might not need induction right away, though. Check with your doctor or midwife. Sometimes it's still safe to let labor begin on its own. But after your water breaks, you must not get an internal/vaginal exam.

You have a health problem that puts you or your baby at risk. If you have conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, or eclampsia, your doctor or midwife might want to induce labor.

A test showed your baby might have a problem. If your baby is not growing normally or has an abnormal heart rate, your doctor or midwife might want to induce labor.

Reasons Not to Induce

Being a little "late" -- just past 40 weeks -- is not a reason to induce. There's no benefit until you’re 41 weeks or beyond. While doctors used to induce women thought to be carrying a large baby, there's no evidence that it helps the baby or the mom. 

Some doctors recommend "elective" inductions for non-medical reasons. Maybe you live far from the hospital and your doctor worries that you won't get there in time. Or maybe your doctor asks you to accommodate his or her schedule. Experts say you should reconsider, though. Because induction poses some risks, experts say that women shouldn't be induced unless it's medically necessary.

You also don’t want to be induced too early. Babies born before 39 weeks are more likely to have health problems, longer hospital stays, and time in neonatal intensive care.

How Is Labor Induced?

There are a few ways a doctor or midwife can induce your labor. These are listed from most to least common.