Tests and Procedures

Labor induction

What you can expect

During the procedure

There are various methods for inducing labor. Depending on the circumstances, your health care provider might:

  • Ripen your cervix. Sometimes synthetic prostaglandins, which are typically placed inside the vagina, are used to thin or soften (ripen) the cervix. After prostaglandin use, your contractions and your baby's heart rate will be monitored. In other cases, a small tube (catheter) with an inflatable balloon on the end is inserted into the cervix. Filling the balloon with saline and resting it against the inside of the cervix helps ripen the cervix.
  • Rupture the amniotic sac. With this technique, also known as an amniotomy, your health care provider makes a small opening in the amniotic sac with a plastic hook. You might feel a warm gush of fluid when the sac opens, also known as your water breaking. An amniotomy is done only if the cervix is partially dilated and thinned and the baby's head is deep in the pelvis. Your baby's heart rate will be monitored before and after the procedure. Your health care provider will examine the amniotic fluid for traces of fecal waste (meconium).
  • Use an intravenous medication. In the hospital, your health care provider might intravenously give you a synthetic version of oxytocin (Pitocin) — a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. Oxytocin is more effective at speeding up (augmenting) labor that has already begun than it is as a cervical ripening agent. Your contractions and your baby's heart rate will be continuously monitored.

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.

After the procedure

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.

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