What Is a Foley Bulb?

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 19, 2023

Doctors use different techniques to induce labor and help birth your baby. Some women ask for induced labor, for instance, if they’re overdue. Other times, it’s medically necessary. 

A foley bulb is one of the ways your doctor might try to induce labor. It is sometimes also called a cervical ripening catheter.

A foley bulb is a soft silicone tube with a balloon near the tip. This tube is called a catheter and is inserted into your cervix. When the catheter is in place, the balloon is slowly filled up with sterile salt water fluid.

The inflated balloon or foley bulb may stay in place for up to 24 hours and puts gentle pressure on your cervix. It can help start labor and will fall out once the cervix reaches a certain dilation that is larger than the size of the Foley bulb. 

Foley bulbs can be placed while you are being monitored in the hospital. If your doctor determines it is safe it may also be used in an outpatient setting for inducing labor

Foley bulbs are generally a low-risk way to induce labor. There are some possible risks to having your doctor use a foley bulb though. These include:

  • The foley bulb can fall out
  • You aren’t as closely monitored as other procedures
  • You could get an infection
  • It might not work
  • It can be uncomfortable

Infections. If you get an infection, your baby will need to be delivered by the fastest method. This could mean that you may need more interventions like stronger medications or a Caesarean section.

It might not work. Inducing labor should only be done once your pregnancy is full term unless there is a health risk. Even then, your cervix has to be soft and ready for labor to start, so sometimes using a foley bulb doesn’t work. If this happens, the method may have to be done again or additional interventions, like extra medications, an assisted vaginal delivery, or a Cesarean delivery, may be necessary.

If you and your baby are healthy and you’re not overdue, it’s usually best to let your body go into labor on its own because there can be risks to inducing labor. These may include:

  • Changes in your baby’s heart rate
  • Contractions that are too strong
  • Umbilical cord problems
  • Newborn death
  • Uterine rupture

Labor usually isn’t induced for certain health conditions. In these cases, a foley bulb or other induction method shouldn’t be used to start labor. These conditions include:

  • During placenta previa when the placenta is over the cervix
  • During active genital herpes
  • Having had a type of previous C-section scan in the uterus where the patient is told not to labor in future
  • When the baby isn’t in the right position
  • Certain types of surgery

There are times when being induced is a good idea. Foley bulbs are a good option if you want to have an outpatient procedure and go home if your doctor agrees to this. Induced labor may be a good idea if you have certain health conditions, including:

In these cases, it may be safer for your baby to be born and treated than to remain inside. Your doctor can help you make a decision about the best way to be induced for your health.

Elective induction. If you live far away from your hospital, you might decide to have your labor induced. These kinds of choices are called elective inductions. A foley bulb could be helpful if you are healthy and able to stay somewhere nearby.

It’s generally safe to use a foley bulb if your doctor or midwife recommends it and inserts it. Your doctor will send you home with the catheter in place and the tube taped to your leg. It might feel uncomfortable, but it usually isn’t painful.

You can do your regular daily activities like showering, bathing, using the toilet, and walking. You should not have sex while you have a foley bulb in place, though.

Make sure to clean the catheter tubing after you use the toilet and wash your hands well. You may want to change your underwear regularly to stay clean and dry.

Sometimes foley bulbs fall out. If yours comes out, don’t try to reinsert it. If it stays in place, don’t try to take it out yourself. Let your doctor or midwife remove it properly. This will help stop you from getting hurt or getting germs in your vagina.

Your doctor will want to see you the next day. Make sure you return to your appointment and let your doctor or midwife know how you’re feeling. Talk to your doctor before your appointment if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bleeding
  • Contractions
  • Your baby isn’t moving
  • You feel unwell
  • Your water breaks

Show Sources


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Effective Healthcare Program: “Cervical Ripening in the Outpatient Setting.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “FAQs Labor Induction.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “When Pregnancy Goes Past Your Due Date.”

Merck Manuals Professional Edition: “Induction of Labor - Gynecology and Obstetrics.”

National Health Service: “Inducing labour.”

National Health Service Hull University Teaching Hospitals: “Information about Induction of Labour.”

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