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Induction of Labor

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is induction of labor?

Induction of labor is a procedure to induce (start) your labor before it begins on its own. Medicines and other methods are used to start contractions and help your cervix soften, thin (efface), and dilate (open). You may be given antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection you have or prevent an infection during delivery.

Why might I need induction of labor?

  • A health problem you have, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
  • A health problem your baby has, such as a slow heartbeat or poor growth inside the womb
  • Problems related to your pregnancy, such as infection of the amniotic fluid, your water breaks before labor begins, or you have too little amniotic fluid

What happens during induction of labor?

Your healthcare provider may use one or more of the following to induce labor:

  • Cervical ripening is a process that helps to soften and thin out your cervix. Medicines called prostaglandins may be used to ripen your cervix. These medicines can be inserted into your vagina or taken as a pill. Other methods can also be used to dilate the cervix. This includes a catheter with an inflatable balloon on the end that is inserted into your cervix. Saline injected through the catheter helps the balloon to expand. A substance that absorbs water may also be inserted into your cervix to help dilate it.
  • Stripping the membranes is a procedure that causes your body to release prostaglandins naturally. Prostaglandins soften the cervix and may help to cause contractions. Your healthcare provider will sweep a gloved finger over the membranes that connect the amniotic sac to the uterus wall.
  • Rupturing the amniotic sac is a procedure that is used to cause your water to break. Your healthcare provider will use a small tool to make a hole in your amniotic sac. This may help contractions to start.
  • Oxytocin may be given through an IV to cause contractions to start and stay strong and regular.

What are the risks of induction of labor?

Medicines used to induce labor may cause too many contractions. This can lower your baby's heartbeat and decrease his or her oxygen supply. Induction of labor also increases the risk of umbilical cord prolapse. This condition causes the umbilical cord to slip back into the vagina before delivery. It can compress the cord and decrease your baby's oxygen supply. Medical induction may cause an infection in you or your baby. Medical induction may also increase your risk for a cesarean section (C-section), especially if it is the first time you give birth. Your uterus may rupture if you have had a C-section before.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.