pregnant woman

Labor doesn’t begin spontaneously for all mamas-to-be. In fact, there are many circumstances where a provider will recommend labor induction to speed the labor and delivery process along. If you’re pregnant, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of inductions, in the event that you might need one at the end of your pregnancy.

Why Are Inductions Recommended?

Your provider may recommend inducing labor due to the following scenarios:

  • You have a condition that could threaten your health, or the health of your little one (including high blood pressure, infection, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes).
  • Your water broke, but labor contractions haven’t started.
  • Your baby has a condition that needs treatment and the risks of a vaginal delivery are low.

In some cases, you and your provider, such as if you live far away from the hospital or have history of short labor. No matter the reason for induction, your provider’s goal (if possible) will be to induce after the 39-week mark in order to ensure your baby is as mature as possible before they enter the world.

How Do Inductions Work?

Labor induction essentially speeds up your body’s natural process through a series of procedures. Each step in the process will help your cervix to soften, dilate, and efface (thin out) to prepare for birth, and cause consistent contractions to begin. Providers may use a combination of a few different methods to get your labor started. You may or may not experience all of these if you are induced:

  • Sweeping or stripping the membranes: If your cervix is soft and slightly open, your provider may insert a gloved finger through the cervix and separate the amniotic sac from your uterus. This causes the uterus to release prostaglandins, which help the cervix to soften and can cause contractions to begin. While this process can be uncomfortable, it can also be effective to getting labor started.
  • Ripening the cervix: When your body is ready to go into labor, your cervix typically softens (or ripens) on its own. However if your cervix hasn’t progressed in terms of dilating or softening at the time of induction, your provider will have a few tricks up their sleeve to get the show on the road:
    • Vaginal suppository, pill or gel: There are several medicines that can be applied or inserted directly into the vagina in order to help soften and thin your cervix.
    • Oral medication: Other forms of medicine may be given orally to help prepare your cervix for labor and delivery.
    • Medical devices: A Foley catheter or graduated dilators may also be used to help open the cervix. A Foley catheter is a thin tube with a balloon at the end. Your provider will insert and inflate it in the vagina to help widen the cervix.
  • Breaking your Water: If your cervix is beginning to dilate and efface, your provider might break your water to speed things along and increase contractions. Using a tool that looks like a knitting needle with a small hook on the end, your provider will insert it into your cervix and gently break the amniotic sac. While this procedure doesn’t feel painful, you may be surprised at the amount of fluid that exits your body.
  • Medication: If the methods above don’t cause you to experience strong, consistent contractions, your provider will likely begin an IV with a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin (Pitocin). Contractions caused by Pitocin are typically stronger, more consistent, and more frequent than natural labor. Be sure to chat with your provider about pain management before labor gets too strong.

Does Labor Happen Faster With An Induction?

Not necessarily. While you might think your baby’s birthday will be on the same day as your induction, that might not be the case. For some mamas-to-be, induction progresses slowly and you may not give birth within 24 hours of the start of your induction. For others, it can progress faster, especially if it’s not your first time delivering a baby.

Our best advice if you are one of the many women who are scheduled for an induction? Don’t get frustrated if it takes some time for things to move along. Bring things to do during the early stages of your induction. Movies, games, and books are great ways to pass the time with your birthing partner. And while it’s exciting to be at the hospital preparing to meet your baby, try to get some sleep if possible. If you have questions about inductions and whether or not you may need one, don’t hesitate to discuss the process with your provider at your next appointment.