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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(2):484

See related article on labor induction.

What is labor induction?

Sometimes it's safer to deliver your baby before you go into natural labor. Your doctor could use medicines to make your labor start “early,” so you can deliver your baby vaginally. This is called “labor induction.” Or it might be better for you not to go into labor at all and have a cesarean section (also called a “C” section).

Why would my doctor recommend labor induction?

The most common reason for labor induction is that the pregnancy has gone two weeks or more past the due date. The baby may get too big if you carry it this far past your due date. It may not be able to get enough food from inside your body. Your doctor might also recommend labor induction if:

  • Your water breaks before you go into labor.

  • You have high blood pressure.

  • You have a serious infection.

  • You have diabetes.

Your doctor will only recommend labor induction to protect you or your baby.

How will my doctor induce my labor?

There are several ways to induce labor. Toward the end of pregnancy, the cervix (the opening to the uterus, or womb) gets soft. It may even open up a little. Your doctor will check to see if your cervix is getting soft and opening up. If it isn't, your doctor may put a medicine in your vagina near the cervix. The medicine helps your cervix get soft and open up.

Your doctor may also “break your water” or use a finger to separate your cervix from the membranes (tissues) around your baby's head. This often makes labor start.

Your doctor will watch you closely. When you're ready, your doctor will start giving you a medicine called oxytocin. Oxytocin will start your contractions and help them to get strong and regular.

Are there any risks to labor induction?

One risk is that the medicine might not work. If your labor won't start with medicine, you might need to have a cesarean section. Or the medicine might make your contractions too strong. If this happens, your doctor might stop the medicine and wait for a while, or do a cesarean section. If you're being induced because of medical problems, there might be other risks.

What can I expect during labor induction?

Sometimes it takes two or three days to induce labor, but it usually takes less time. It takes more time if you're being induced really early or if it's your first baby. Don't eat very much before you come to the hospital. Remember that the medicines for labor induction can give you very strong contractions and might upset your stomach. Tell your doctor if you need help with the pain. In most cases, labor induction goes well and you can deliver your baby vaginally.

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