Induced labor is a procedure in which contractions are triggered prior to a woman going into labor on her own. Approximately 22 percent of labors in the United States begin this way.
When should labor be induced?
Labor induction should be reserved for legitimate medical indications. That is, it should not be scheduled because you want a particular birthday for your baby or because it fits your provider’s schedule. Below are a few reasons your doctor may recommend an induction:
Pregnancy that has lasted 41 weeks or more
Fetal growth restriction or low amniotic fluid
Unless there is a medical reason, inductions should not be scheduled prior to 39 weeks gestation, as babies need this time to develop and fully mature.
How do they induce my labor?
There are many ways to stimulate labor. Your provider will first do a cervical exam to check for dilation. If your cervix is closed or not very dilated, you will first need to have your cervix “ripened” (just like a fruit!) before regular contractions are stimulated. The goal of this is to soften and slightly dilate the cervix to prepare it for regular contractions. Cervical ripening can be done by using medicine taken by mouth or placed in the vagina, or via a small catheter placed through the opening of the cervix that is then filled with fluid to try to physically dilate it. Once your cervix is opened more, a medicine called Pitocin is often given intravenously to stimulate regular contractions. Along the way, your provider may also break your bag of water to help move labor along.
How long does labor induction take?
This depends on how dilated your cervix is when the induction has started and whether or not this is your first baby. It can be normal for inductions to sometimes take a few days, and as long as there are no concerns about your baby or your health, it is safe to continue to proceed. No induction is the same, and many times a few different methods are employed to help a woman progress into active labor.
What are the risks with induction of labor?
An increased risk of needing a C-section is the most common risk about which patients are counseled when undergoing induction. The more dilated you are when you start out the lower the risk, but this is why inductions should only be used when medically needed. Other risks include prolonged labor and fetal distress, which may or may not necessitate a C-section.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018
- American College of Obstetrics/Gynecology Practice Bulletin
- Induction of labor.
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