So, you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy hooray, and now your doctors are starting to talk about induction of labor. Is it time to panic? No way, mama, it’s all good.
Labor induction means your medical team will perform one or more steps to encourage uterine contractions. The goal of induction is for you to have a vaginal birth, and while inducing labor might not be high on everyone’s list of birth preferences, doctors will only suggest it if it’s the best thing for you and your baby’s health.
So what should you expect from the induction of labor? Here are the answers to the top questions about induced labor.
In this article: 📝
- Why might labor be induced?
- How do they induce labor?
- Is it painful to induce labor?
- How to prepare for labor induction
- Does induction cause longer labor?
- How long does it take for a baby to be born after being induced?
Why might labor be induced?
As an overview, induction will be suggested for the overall health and wellbeing of you and your baby. This might be due to various reasons, including:
- You’re two weeks overdue and labor is not happening spontaneously.
- Your baby is measuring small and may have fetal growth restriction.
- Your baby is measuring large and waiting any longer may mean vaginal birth is more problematic.
- Your waters have broken but your contractions have not started.
- Oligohydramnios — not enough amniotic fluid surrounds your baby.
- Placental abruption — when your placenta partially or wholly separates from the uterine wall.
- Various medical conditions — like gestational diabetes, kidney disease, or high blood pressure complications, like preeclampsia.
- Elective induction, for reasons such as living far away from a medical center or a history of very quick labors.
Inducing labor at 39 weeks or after comes with risks, as does any medical procedure, but may be the best course of action. It is generally not advised to induce labor before 39 weeks gestation, as it can increase the chance of your baby requiring more medical attention after birth. However, it’s important to discuss the risks and benefits to your specific pregnancy with your doctor.
How do they induce labor?
The process of being induced will vary depending on your medical team and the exact reason for your induction. Different states, countries, and hospitals can have slightly different tools and procedures, too. You may need one or more of the following options to kickstart your labor.
Step 1: Ripen the cervix
Your doctors will use what’s called the Bishop Scale to determine your cervix’s readiness for labor. If your Bishop Score is less than six (on a scale from 0-13), your cervix needs help to dilate and efface (thin out and soften).
To help your cervix ripen, you may be given prostaglandin, which is a hormone-like compound that stimulates cervical softening. This can be given orally as a tablet, as a gel applied to your cervix directly, or as a tampon-like insert. Alternatively, your medical team might use a balloon catheter–a small tube with a balloon at the end, which is inserted vaginally. The balloon is inflated at your cervix to encourage dilation.
These procedures are often given 12 - 24 hours to kick in before the next step of intervention is taken.
Step 2: Stripping the membranes
Your medical team might advise stripping, or “sweeping,” the membranes, which is when your doctor will insert a finger through the cervix to break the membranes connecting your amniotic sac and the uterine wall. This can only happen if the cervix is already partially dilated, and will usually trigger your body’s release of prostaglandin, which can stimulate your uterus to begin contractions.
Step 3: Amniotomy
An amniotomy is the name for a procedure where your water is broken manually. Your doctor will insert a long thin plastic instrument, which looks a bit like a crochet hook, into your vagina to gently tear the amniotic sac and break your water. Your water breaking will generally kick start contractions and the body’s natural urge to go into labor. This, too, can only be done if your cervix is already partially dilated.
Step 4: Intravenous medication
If you have gone through all the previous steps (or your water has broken on its own) but contractions are not progressing, you will be given an intravenous drug called Pitocin. Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes your uterus to contract. The amount of Pitocin you are given will increase until labor is well underway.
Throughout all of these stages, your and your baby’s heart rates and general wellbeing will be monitored closely, and you will likely stay at the hospital for the duration of your induction.
Is it painful to induce labor?
While some of the procedures, like catheter insertion or stripping the membranes, will probably feel pretty uncomfortable, they shouldn’t be painful.
Being given Pitocin can make your contractions more regular, more frequent, and stronger, so some people who have previously experienced a spontaneous vaginal birth may say induced labor is more painful. However, this is not always the case, so there’s no need to be fearful.
How to prepare for labor induction
When it comes to giving birth, knowledge is power. Making sure you have honest conversations with your medical team ahead of your induction can really help. Of course, even with induced labor, there are still many variables, so knowing what to expect and how the process might play out can help massively once you’re in the moment.
If you would like an epidural, or have another specific pain relief plan, make sure your doctor knows this, so they can have everything prepared for you.
Does induction cause longer labor?
Not necessarily. If your cervix is already dilated and your induction starts with having an amniotomy or Pitocin drip, you may be holding your newborn in just a few short hours.
How long does it take for a baby to be born after being induced?
If your labor induction starts at step one, it may take a few hours, or a couple of days, for you to deliver your baby. Even though inductions are planned, it doesn’t mean they all follow the same course.
And sometimes, induced labor (just like spontaneous labor) won’t progress as planned, or your or your baby’s condition changes, and a C-section is required. In this case, your stay in the hospital after the birth will probably be longer than if you had a vaginal birth.
No matter what happens with your induction, the good news is, you’ll be meeting your baby very soon! So be strong, mama. You got this!