Also known as:
Labor inductions are done for many reasons, generally to minimize pregnancy complications. Here are just a few examples:
- A woman is at or past 41 weeks pregnant
- A woman is having medical problems that increase risk for the baby such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- The bag of waters may have broken or be leaking
- The baby (or babies) may be small or the amniotic fluid is too low
Labor is usually induced (started) by giving a medication called oxytocin. This hormone is very similar to what the body makes when labor begins. Labor and delivery staff will start the medication, delivered in an intravenous (IV) solution, at a low dose and carefully increase it over time until your contraction frequency is similar to what it would be in normal labor.
While you are getting the medicine, we will monitor the baby’s heart rate and your contractions by using fetal and contraction monitors placed on your abdomen. The length of labor depends on how dilated (open) or “ripe” your cervix (entrance to uterus) is to begin with. Usually, the more dilated you are, the quicker your labor will be. If your cervix already has a large enough opening for labor, your practitioner may start your induction by breaking the bag of waters. If your cervix is closed and has not shortened, the process may start with medications that are given to better prepare the cervix for induction. This will usually soften and begin to dilate your cervix. When the cervix is riper, the oxytocin is more effective. Sometimes, the ripening process alone will start labor.
It is always important to think of the potential risks and benefits of any procedure. The risks include, but are not limited to, these below:
- Labor inductions may increase the risk of cesarean section delivery compared to labor that begins naturally. The risk is 2-3 times more likely for first time mothers with a cervix that is not adequately dilated or effaced.
- Inductions usually result in longer labors and may lead to infection and/or increase the chance of having to deliver your baby with the help of forceps or use of a vacuum.
- All medications have possible side effects or unintended adverse reactions. For example, it is possible to cause contractions that are too frequent and may affect the baby’s heart rate. This could result in an emergency delivery. Rarely, it could cause the uterus to rupture. This is why careful monitoring of your contractions and baby’s heart rate is necessary during labor induction.
NOTE: Elective Induction is an induction done without having a medical reason to do so or without the patient or baby needing extra support. Elective inductions may have more risks than benefits, especially if this is a first time labor. Elective inductions are not done before 39 weeks. Generally, inductions will take longer than a regular labor that occurs naturally, even if you previously delivered a baby quickly and had a fast labor.
The alternative to labor induction is waiting for labor to begin without any medication or intervention. The decision for an induction should occur based on your own pregnancy situation and after a discussion of the risks, benefits and reason for an induction with your OB provider.