What Is Labor Induction and How Is it Done?

In very specific cases, specialists may advise labor induction, which means artificially causing contractions that trigger delivery.
What Is Labor Induction and How Is it Done?

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Labor induction is when uterine contractions are artificially caused in order to trigger delivery. In this sense, it’s a programmed action that gynecologists use because of certain conditions.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about labor induction.

Labor Induction

Unlike normal delivery, in which the contractions start on their own, in labor induction, they’re artificially triggered by certain drugs.

Although it’s advisable to always wait for labor to start on its own, it’s better to induce it in some cases. Thus, labor induction is advisable for various reasons. In these cases, a physician will induce it.

When Do Doctors Recommend Labor Induction?

Pregnant woman with contractions.

Labor induction is recommended for special situations that may compromise the mother or the baby’s health. These include:

  • Pre-labor rupture of membranes. When a woman’s water breaks, it’s normal for contractions to start. In some cases, however, this occurs early, meaning contractions don’t start. If they haven’t started after 12 to 24 hours, the doctor may induce labor to prevent complications.
  • Prolonged pregnancy. After the 42nd week of gestation, specialists may consider inducing labor if it hasn’t happened naturally.
  • Illness of the mother. In some cases, the mother may suffer from some kind of disease such as diabetes, hypertension, etc. In these cases, to prevent complications, it’s better to induce labor.
  • The existence of meconium. Meconium can be potentially dangerous or even fatal to the fetus. Therefore, it’s better to induce labor.
  • Fetal macrosomia. These are cases where the fetus weighs more than 9 pounds 15 ounces. Since this entails certain risks to both mother and fetus, the doctor may advise inducing labor.
  • Fetal death in utero. Unfortunately, in these cases, labor should be induced.

After a thorough assessment of the case and the specific conditions of both mother and fetus, the specialist will be the one to decide whether labor should be induced or not.

How Do They Induce Labor?

Once the specialist has decided that the best option is to induce labor, the process begins. It’s performed in two phases:

First Phase: Cervical Dilation

To induce labor, the cervix should be dilated at least one inch (two or three centimeters). The doctor will administer prostaglandins (hormones that stimulate the uterus) so that the dilation process begins.

However, it may take 12 to 24 hours from the moment the prostaglandins are administered until dilation. For this reason, they’re usually administered at night so that the mother can rest and be prepared for induction and delivery.

Second Phase: Amniotomy or Oxytocin

Once the woman is dilated, the gynecologist breaks the amniotic sac to stimulate contractions. However, if after breaking the amniotic sac they don’t start naturally, the doctor may administer oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone that causes contractions of the uterine muscles and is administered intravenously. At the same time, the heart rate of the fetus and mother is monitored, as well as the contractions.

Normally, the first dose of oxytocin is small and will increase as indicated by the gynecologist. Following the administration of oxytocin, the contractions may start abruptly and painfully, which may be painful for both the mother and fetus. For this reason, the gynecologist will closely monitor the entire process.

From here, the labor will occur naturally unless there are complications that require a Cesarean section.

We recommend that you read: Bleeding During Pregnancy

Risks of Labor Induction

Mother and newbor after labor induction.

Although the process is long and can be painful, induced labor doesn’t present serious complications.

The most significant risks for the mother stem from the lengthy process, as it can cause fatigue or fever (due to the drugs).

In this regard, you must bear in mind that it can take up to four hours from the moment the prostaglandin is administered for the uterus to dilate three centimeters. Furthermore, if you add the necessary hours for the administration of oxytocin and the labor itself until delivery, it’s a very lengthy process.

Moreover, the fetus may not feel at ease in the uterus during the process. For this reason, the gynecologist may decide on a Caesarean section, even though it poses its own complications. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, most labor inductions result in vaginal births free of any complications.

So if this is your case, don’t worry. Despite how long the process is, the medical staff will guide you every step of the way. Within hours, you’ll have your little one in your arms!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Tenore J (2003). «Methods for cervical ripening and induction of labor». Am Fam Physician 67 (10): 2123-8
  • Järvelin, M. R., Hartikainen‐Sorri, A. and Rantakallio, P. (1993), Labour induction policy in hospitals of different levels of specialisation. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 100: 310-315. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.1993.tb12971.x
  • A Metin Gülmezoglu et al. “Induction of labour for improving birth outcomes for women at or beyond term”, Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012; 6: CD004945.
  • Ekaterina Mishanina et al. “Use of labour induction and risk of cesarean delivery: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, CMAJ. 2014 Jun 10; 186(9): 665–673.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.