Inducing labor, also known as labor induction, is a procedure where a doctor or midwife uses methods to help you go into labor.
In most cases, it’s best to let labor happen on its own, but there are exceptions. Your doctor may decide to induce you for medical reasons or if you’re 2 or more weeks past your due date.
Talk with your doctor about whether labor induction is right for you.
In a perfect world, you’ll go into labor right on cue at 40 weeks. However, sometimes the process doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, and the baby runs late.
Certain medical problems can make an extended pregnancy risky for you and your baby, including:
- growth problems in the baby
- too little amniotic fluid around the baby
- gestational diabetes
- high blood pressure
- a uterine infection
- placental separation from the uterus
- Rh incompatibility
Your doctor may need to induce labor if your water breaks before you start getting contractions. Contractions are a sign that labor has started and your cervix has begun to open. A lack of contractions could mean that your body isn’t preparing for delivery like it should.
You might prefer to induce if you live far from a hospital or have a history of delivering quickly. Inducing labor may also be medically necessary after 42 weeks. At this point, the placenta can no longer provide enough oxygen and nutrients for your baby.
Preeclampsia is another reason for inducing labor. Preeclampsia is when you develop high blood pressure and at least one related symptom. If you have high blood pressure during pregnancy, delivering your baby early could prevent complications.
There are a few ways to speed up the process if your baby is behind schedule. The safest and most effective way is to see your doctor. Medications or medical techniques can bring on labor more quickly.
The other option is to try to induce labor on your own. Before you try anything, talk with your doctor or midwife. Make sure the method you’re attempting is safe and that your pregnancy is at the optimal time to induce.
Two types of medications induce labor. Drugs called prostaglandins soften the cervix to ready it for delivery. You can take these drugs by mouth, or they can be inserted as a suppository into your vagina.
The second type of drug kick-starts contractions. Pitocin is the most common of these medications. You get it through an IV.
Your cervix needs to be ready for labor or the medications won’t work. Learn the pros and cons of using medication to induce labor.
Stripping the membranes involves the amniotic sac. Your doctor uses their fingers to push the amniotic sac away from the cervix.
To break your water, the doctor pops open the amniotic sac with a small plastic hook. Your baby will then move its way to the top of your cervix in preparation for delivery. You could go into labor days or even hours later.
Membrane stripping is generally considered safe, but experts disagree on whether this practice is worth doing.
For a more natural approach without medical intervention, you can try inducing labor on your own. Studies haven’t verified that these methods work, so check with your doctor or midwife before trying any of them.
One of the easiest and safest ways to try inducing labor on your own is to take a walk. The gravity from your movements may help slide your baby down into position. Although a walk may not speed up your pregnancy, it’s good for you in general.
Having sex can also help. Semen contains hormones called prostaglandins, which make your uterus muscles contract. Having an orgasm yourself will also stimulate your uterus.
There’s no evidence that getting more active will help induce labor, but it’s good for your health and pregnancy. Exercise reduces your risk of a C-section and gestational diabetes.
It’s safe for most people to exercise during their pregnancy. Still, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor beforehand. Certain conditions may mean you should avoid exercise completely during pregnancy.
Deep inside the core of a pineapple is an enzyme called bromelain that breaks down proteins. That property makes it a key ingredient in many meat tenderizers.
The theory behind using bromelain for labor induction is that it might break down tissue in your cervix and soften it to prepare for delivery. There’s no scientific evidence that this theory is true, however.
Bromelain might work well on meat, but it’s not very active in the human body. Plus, pineapple could worsen pregnancy heartburn.
While it’s usually best to let nature take its course, inducing labor may be a good idea if there’s a problem with your pregnancy or your baby. If you’re healthy, an induction might help you avoid a C-section.
A 2018 study found that women in their first pregnancy who were induced at 39 weeks were less likely to need a C-section than those who waited. Complication rates didn’t differ between the two groups.
Ask your doctor whether it makes sense to induce at 39 weeks if:
- this is your first pregnancy
- you’re only carrying one baby
- you and your baby are healthy
C-sections can be risky, causing complications like bleeding and infection. While they may be necessary in certain cases, these surgical deliveries can also cause more problems with future pregnancies.
Your labor will be induced in a hospital or birthing center. The process will differ based on which technique your doctor uses to induce labor. Sometimes doctors use a combination of methods.
Depending on the techniques your doctor tries, it can take anywhere from a few hours to several days for your labor to start. Most of the time, induction will lead to vaginal delivery. If this doesn’t work, you might need to try again or have a C-section.
What you can expect depends on the method of induction:
- Prostaglandins come as a suppository that goes into your vagina. After a few hours, the medication should trigger labor.
- You’ll get Pitocin through an IV. This chemical stimulates contractions and helps speed up the labor process.
- During amniotic sac rupture, the doctor will place a plastic hook inside your vagina to open up the sac. You may feel a warm rush of water as the sac breaks. When your water breaks, your body’s prostaglandin production increases, which should start your contractions.
The hospital staff will monitor your contractions to see how your labor is progressing. Your baby’s heartbeat is also monitored.
Health concerns and a long pregnancy are reasons why you might consider labor induction. It’s not a decision to make lightly since inducing labor can have serious risks. These include:
- premature birth
- slowed heart rate in the baby
- uterine rupture
- infections in both parent and baby
- excessive bleeding in the parent
- umbilical cord issues
- lung problems in the baby
- stronger contractions
- vision and hearing problems in the baby
- poor lung and brain development
Labor inductions don’t always work. If your induction isn’t successful, you may need a C-section.
The drugs and techniques used to induce labor can cause side effects for both you and your baby. Pitocin and other medications that soften your cervix can intensify contractions, making them come faster and closer together.
More intense contractions may be more painful for you. Those faster contractions can also affect your baby’s heart rate. Your doctor might stop giving you the medication if your contractions are coming too quickly.
Rupturing the amniotic sac may cause the umbilical cord to slip out of your vagina before your baby. This is called prolapse. Pressure on the cord can reduce your baby’s oxygen and nutrient supply.
Labor needs to start within about 6 to 12 hours after rupturing your amniotic sac. Not going into labor within that time frame increases the risk of infection for both you and your baby.
The Bishop score is a system your doctor uses to figure out how soon you’ll deliver and whether to induce labor. It gets its name from obstetrician Edward Bishop, who devised the method in 1964.
Your doctor will calculate your score from the results of a physical exam and ultrasound. The score is based on factors like:
- how far your cervix has opened (dilated)
- how thin your cervix is (effacement)
- how soft your cervix is
- where in the birth canal your baby’s head is (fetal station)
A score of 8 or above means you’re close to starting labor and that induction should work well. Your odds of a successful induction go down with a lower score.
Induction uses medication or medical techniques to start your labor. Natural labor happens on its own. The length of labor that happens without medical intervention varies.
Some people deliver within a few hours of their first contractions. Others have to wait several days before they’re ready to deliver.
When you go into labor naturally, the muscles of your uterus start to contract. Your cervix then widens, softens, and thins to prepare for your baby’s delivery.
During active labor, your cramps become stronger and more frequent. Your cervix widens from 6 cm to 10 cm to accommodate your baby’s head. At the end of this stage, your baby is born.
What labor induction feels like depends on how your doctor induces your labor.
Membrane stripping is slightly uncomfortable, and you should expect some cramping afterward. You’ll feel a slight tug when the doctor breaks your amniotic sac. Afterward, there will be a rush of warm fluid.
Using medication to induce labor produces stronger and faster contractions. You’re more likely to need an epidural when you’re induced than if you start labor without induction.
Unless you or your baby’s health is at risk, waiting for labor to come on its own is the best decision. The biggest benefit is that it reduces the risk of complications from induced labor.
Labor induced without good reason before 39 weeks can lead to more complications than benefits. However, if your doctor induces labor for medical reasons, it could improve both your health and the health of your baby.
Weigh all the benefits versus the risks with your doctor before you decide to have an induction. If your doctor is pressuring you because of scheduling issues, get a second opinion.