HealthSheets™


Labor Induction

Labor induction is a way to help get your labor started. This can protect your health and your baby’s, too.

Ways to induce labor

Your healthcare provider can get your labor started by using any of 3 methods or a combination of them. Here are some common treatments:

Prostaglandin. A medicine that may be given as a pill, capsule, or vaginal suppository. It softens, thins, and opens the cervix. This is called cervical ripening. Your healthcare provider may also use a Foley catheter or a double balloon catheter. Your healthcare provider inserts the catheter into your cervix to mechanically dilate it and cause the release of natural prostaglandins.

Pitocin (oxytocin). A medicine your healthcare provider gives you through an IV (intravenous) line. You may get it within 4 to 24 hours after your healthcare provider gives you prostaglandin. Pitocin helps start contractions. It’s always given in the hospital.

Rupturing the membrane. A procedure in which your healthcare provider uses a small tool to break your bag of water. Healthcare providers perform this procedure more often in women who have given birth before. And it’s always done in the hospital. This procedure needs the cervix to be dilated enough to allow the procedure and the baby's head to be down, close to the cervix. 

Reasons for inducing labor

There are reasons that your healthcare provider will decide to induce labor, including the following:

  • When the health of the mother or fetus is at risk by continuing the pregnancy. These conditions include preeclampsia, poor fetal growth, low amniotic fluid, infection of the membranes (chorioamnionitis), ruptured bag of water, and certain diseases, like diabetes.

  • Elective after 39 weeks for nonmedical reasons like living far from the hospital

What to expect

Prostaglandin may be given in the hospital. Fetal monitoring is needed after placement. Other methods of inducing labor are done in the hospital. You’ll need to stay there until you give birth. Your healthcare provider may attach monitors to your belly to measure contractions and help make sure your baby has no problems. No matter how your healthcare provider induces labor, a few factors may affect how long it takes you to give birth. These include how long it takes for your cervix to thin and open, and when contractions begin.

Give yourself time

Even though inducing labor gets the process started, you still may need to wait. Mothers who have labor induced most often give birth within a day or so. But it can take as long as a few days to give birth.

With labor induction, you may have a greater chance of:

  • A cesarean section (surgical delivery)

  • An infection

  • A longer hospital stay

  • Uterine rupture, although rare

  • Fetal death, although extremely rare

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