Inducing labor happens when your pregnancy care provider starts or progresses labor with medications or other methods. Your provider may recommend an induction if you’re past your due date or if there’s a health complication with your pregnancy.
Labor induction (inducing labor) is when a pregnancy care provider starts labor instead of letting labor start on its own. Providers induce labor to speed up the process of childbirth in situations where your health or the fetus’s health is at risk, or when you’re past your due date. They can also induce you if your labor stalls or isn’t progressing.
Your provider will examine you and check your cervix before deciding how to proceed with inducing labor. They’ll weigh the benefits of induction against the risks of induction. Throughout a labor induction, your provider monitors the fetus to make sure it’s tolerating labor well.
There are several ways pregnancy care providers induce labor. A few of them are:
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The main reason healthcare providers induce labor is to protect your health and the fetus’s health. Your healthcare provider may recommend labor induction if:
Inducing labor may help lower your risk of complications from certain medical conditions. Your healthcare provider may also recommend labor induction if you have a past history of stillbirth or other complications during childbirth.
The timing of labor induction varies depending on the health of your pregnancy. Pregnancy care providers weigh the risks and benefits of inducing labor. Ideally, they wait until 39 weeks of pregnancy to induce labor. However, if the fetus’s health is at risk, inducing labor before 39 weeks may be the safest option.
It depends on the induction method your provider uses. It also depends on how soft (or ripe) your cervix is. Ripening refers to how open (dilated) and thin (effaced) your cervix is. Before inducing labor, your provider will examine your cervix to see how “ripe” it is.
If your cervix is hard and closed, the first step in inducing labor is to ripen your cervix. If your cervix is already starting to ripen, it could change how your provider approaches induction.
Healthcare providers may recommend one or more of several methods for inducing labor. It depends on how soft your cervix is and if you’re dilated or effaced.
If your cervix isn’t effaced or dilated, your provider may use one of the following methods to ripen your cervix first:
Once your cervix is ripe, your provider may recommend the following methods to increase the intensity of your uterine contractions. Contractions help push your baby down the birth canal.
It depends. Some people respond very quickly to labor induction, while others take several hours to respond. There aren’t any rules on how long you can be in labor or how long it takes until delivery. However, the majority of people progress into “active” labor within 24 hours of an induction. Active labor is when your cervix reaches about 6 centimeters (cm).
A labor induction reduces the risk of complications from continuing the pregnancy or letting labor start or progress on its own.
Inducing labor can have some risks. The risks depend on the method your healthcare provider chooses. However, most providers choose a labor induction because the benefits outweigh the risks.
Some methods, such as receiving too much oxytocin too quickly, may overstimulate your uterus. This overstimulation can cause your uterus to contract too frequently. Too-frequent contractions may lead to complications, including problems with the umbilical cord and the fetus’s heart rate.
Other possible risks of labor induction include:
There are reasons providers can’t or shouldn’t perform an induction. If this happens, your provider may discuss an assisted vaginal delivery or a C-section delivery.
In most cases, recovering from a labor induction is the same as recovering from labor that began on its own.
It depends. Often, it’s a combination of methods that work fastest to induce labor — for example, breaking your water and giving you Pitocin in an IV. Only your pregnancy care provider can decide what will work best for you based on your situation.
How painful labor induction is depends on a few factors, including:
Having your membranes stripped typically happens late in pregnancy as a first attempt to jumpstart labor. It may feel a little uncomfortable, and you may begin cramping or spotting shortly after.
If your provider breaks your water, you may feel a pulling or popping sensation followed by a flood or trickle of liquid from your vagina. This shouldn’t be painful.
Taking medications for labor induction may cause pain because medications work to intensify uterine contractions. Labor contractions can be quite painful and feel like very strong menstrual cramps.
However, depending on when labor induction occurs, you may have already had an epidural (the most common pain medication for childbirth). In this case, you may not feel anything. Or your provider may suggest an epidural once labor pain becomes too severe.
It’s not safe to try to induce labor on your own by taking medications or supplements. Some people say having sex or stimulating your nipples can help you go into labor. But no studies have proven this. If you’re feeling anxious about meeting your baby, it’s best to talk with your provider. They may have ideas about things you can do to help start the labor process.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A labor induction is sometimes necessary to protect your health and the fetus’s health. This can be because you’re past your due date or because there’s a health complication with your pregnancy. Your pregnancy care provider can induce labor with medications or other techniques such as breaking your water. Getting induced may not be part of your birth plan, but know that your provider is making that recommendation based on what they believe is best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you can expect.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/16/2023.
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