Induction of labour

In most pregnancies, labour will start on its own but in some situations your labour may need to be started artificially. This is called 'induction’ of labour.

Having an induction is quite common - it may happen in as many as one in five pregnancies in the UK.

You will only be offered an induction if the midwives and doctors feel it is the best thing to do for you and your baby. They will talk to you about what will happen, how it may feel and the pros and cons of starting your labour artificially.

You will have the chance to ask questions and they won't do anything unless you agree.

The process of induction is not painful but waiting for the drugs to work can mean that it sometimes takes a day or two.

Why might I need to be induced?

Your baby is late

Only five percent of babies actually arrive on their due date but if your baby is very late it can cause problems, so you may need to be induced. Going overdue is the most common reason for induction.

Once your baby is around ten or 12 days past their due date, your placenta may not be working as well as it used to be. Your healthcare team will monitor you closely at this stage and if they think it would be safer for your baby to be born now, they will talk to you about the reasons for this and what will be involved.

Before the induction you will be offered a membrane sweep, which is another method of bringing on labour.

Your waters have broken before labour has started

Your waters - the bag of fluid around your baby - usually break once you are having contractions but sometimes they can break before labour begins. If this happens, contact your midwife or hospital straight away. They will probably ask you to come in straight away for a check-up.

Your waters are sterile all though your pregnancy, protecting you and your baby from infection. Once they break, though, bacteria can get into your womb. Because there's a risk that this could cause an infection, you may be offered induction.

If your waters break before you are 37 weeks, there is a risk of going into labour prematurely and doctors will talk through the options with you. These options might include induction depending on your health and your baby's and how many weeks pregnant you are.

If you are 37 weeks or more, if all is well you'll normally be able to go home after being checked over.

At this stage you can choose whether you want an induction or whether you would prefer to wait and see what happens.

If you agree to an induction, you'll be given a date to go to hospital if labour hasn't started naturally within a certain time.

If you decide to wait, the midwives and doctors will check you and your baby regularly. As long as you are both well, you can wait to see whether labour happens naturally.

Other reasons for induction

If either you or your baby has a health problem that means it would be safer to give birth earlier than you would naturally go into labour, you may be offered an induction.

How is labour induced?

Your midwife will put a gel or pessary into your vagina. This contains a drug called prostaglandin that helps to soften and open the cervix, and trigger labour contractions. This can take a while and you may need more than one dose of prostaglandin.

You might be offered a syntocinon drip as well. This is a drug that imitates the hormones your body produces when you go into labour naturally. Your midwife or doctor may also break your waters.

If induction doesn't work, you may be offered another dose of prostaglandin. Depending on your individual situation, you might be offered a caesarean.

Is induction painful?

No, the process of induction is not painful, though you might feel some slight discomfort when the midwife puts the pessary in. Once the process is started you will be kept in hospital and monitored so you might find there is a lot of waiting around for the drugs to work and for labour to start.

Your partner may be able to stay with you to the end. Bring books, magazines, ipad, laptop or a portable dvd player for entertainment. When you pack your hospital bag to come in for induction, pack it as you would for the birth of the baby.

What can I do to get labour going if I'm overdue?

If you are past your due date, you could try some of these ideas that some women have reported as successful (though none of these are backed by research):

  • Sex. Your partner's semen contains natural prostaglandins that may stimulate labour (it will not make you go into labour early though. Sex during pregnancy is safe). If your waters have broken avoid sex as there’s an increased risk of infection.
  • Stimulating your nipples.
  • Drinking raspberry leaf tea.
  • Keeping active with lots of walking.

Don't listen to anyone who tells you that castor oil will do the trick. It won't. It will just give you horrible diarrhoea and stomach cramps that aren't labour pains.

See some more ideas

Read more

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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