Labor induction — also known as inducing labor — is the stimulation of uterine contractions during pregnancy before labor begins on its own to achieve a vaginal birth. A health care provider might recommend labor induction for various reasons, primarily when there's concern for a mother's health or a baby's health. One of the most important factors in predicting the likelihood of a successful labor induction is how soft and distended your cervix is (cervical ripening).
The benefits of labor induction typically outweigh the risks. If you're pregnant, understanding why and how labor induction is done can help you prepare.
To determine if labor induction is necessary, your health care provider will evaluate several factors, including your health, your baby's health, your baby's gestational age, weight and size, your baby's position in the uterus, and the status of your cervix. Reasons for labor induction include:
Elective labor induction is the initiation of labor for convenience in a person with a term pregnancy who doesn't medically need the intervention. Elective labor inductions might be appropriate in some instances. For example, if you live far from the hospital or birthing center or you have a history of rapid deliveries, a scheduled induction might help you avoid an unattended delivery. In such cases, your health care provider will confirm that your baby's gestational age is at least 39 weeks or older before induction to reduce the risk of health problems for your baby.
Labor induction carries various risks, including:
Labor induction isn't appropriate for everyone. Labor induction might not be an option if:
If you've had a prior C-section and have labor induced, your health care provider will avoid certain medications to reduce the risk of uterine rupture.
A C-section includes an abdominal incision and a uterine incision. After the abdominal incision, the doctor will make an incision in your uterus. Low transverse incisions are the most common (top left). Classical incisions are usually reserved for rapid delivery or for very preterm fetuses (bottom). A low vertical incision might be used if your baby is in an awkward position (top right).
Labor induction is done in a hospital or birthing center, where you and your baby can be monitored and labor and delivery services are readily available. However, some steps might be taken prior to admission.
There are various methods for inducing labor. Depending on the circumstances, your health care provider might:
Keep in mind that your health care provider might also use a combination of these methods to induce labor.
How long it takes for labor to start depends on how ripe your cervix is when your induction starts, the induction techniques used and how your body responds to them. If your cervix needs time to ripen, it might take days before labor begins. If you simply need a little push, you might be holding your baby in your arms in a matter of hours.
In most cases, labor induction leads to a successful vaginal birth. If labor induction fails, you might need to try another induction or have a C-section.
If you have a successful vaginal delivery after induction, there might be no implications for future pregnancies. If the induction leads to a C-section, your health care provider can help you decide whether to attempt a vaginal delivery with a subsequent pregnancy or to schedule a repeat C-section.