If you’re pregnant, you may think your body will begin the labor process on its own. But sometimes that's not possible and medical professionals need to help start it through labor induction. This process uses different techniques to get your body ready to deliver your baby.
Why Induce Labor?
Labors aren't induced unless there's a health concern for mom or baby. You might be induced if:
- Your pregnancy stretches far beyond your expected due date
- You have a history of fast births
- You live far away from the hospital, and labor induction is a safer option than waiting it out
- Your water broke, but you don’t have any contractions
- You have a uterine infection that may pose a risk for your baby
- You have preeclampsia, high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes
- Your amniotic fluid levels are low
- Something's wrong with your placenta
- Your baby isn't growing as expected
- You expect multiples such as twins or triplets
When Is Labor Induction Safe?
In most cases, your doctor will wait until you're full term to schedule a labor induction. Full term means about 40 weeks. Induction between 37 and 42 weeks is common.
If your baby's born earlier than 37 weeks, they're considered premature or preterm and may need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for support following birth. Some preterm births happen through induction, especially with multiples. Preterm birth is dangerous because your baby's more likely to have complications such as:
- difficulty feeding
- inability to breathe on their own
- trouble maintaining their body temperature
Allowing a pregnancy to go beyond 42 weeks is dangerous because:
- A larger baby may be more difficult to deliver vaginally
- Your placenta is deteriorating, leaving fewer nutrients for your baby to thrive on
- Amniotic fluid may lessen, and your baby may pass her first poop (meconium) in the womb
How Is Labor Induced?
Labor induction happens in several ways. Doctors or nurses help start the process and your body takes it from there. If your doctor recommends labor induction, it's best to schedule at a hospital where staff can monitor you and your baby throughout your labor and delivery.
A key to labor induction is your cervix. Getting it to dilate helps start the birthing process. Labor induction focuses on ways to stimulate the cervix. Some examples of labor induction processes include:
Membrane stripping. Your doctor can do this at one of your checkups or in the hospital. They insert a gloved finger into your vagina and through the cervix then move their finger back and forth to separate your bag of water from the wall of your uterus. This often encourages your body to contract. Contractions progress your body through labor.
Stripping your membranes also causes a release of hormones that help soften your cervix in preparation for delivery. Combined with the pressure of contractions, your baby may begin to drop, dilating your cervix further.
Breaking your water. If stripping your membranes doesn’t work, your doctor may use a small plastic hook to break your water. This usually speeds up the labor process, allowing you to push within hours of your water breaking.
But if your labor still doesn’t progress, this can be dangerous for your baby. Once your bag of water breaks, your baby must be delivered soon, or they may have health issues because of the lack of amniotic fluid.
Ripening. If your body doesn’t produce enough cervix-softening hormone on its own, your doctor may use a gel to ripen your cervix. Ripening happens when your cervix thins out and dilates in preparation for birth. You must be 10 centimeters dilated before you can begin pushing.
Oxytocin. If nothing else works, your doctor will give you a hormone called oxytocin in the form of the medication Pitocin. An intravenous (IV) drip helps stimulate your uterus to contract, progressing your labor. Once this medication is used, you and your baby must be closely monitored.
Questions to ask about induction. If your doctor talks about inducing your labor and it makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to ask questions and educate yourself about the process and your options. Some good questions to consider include: