If labor has not started on its own your health care provider may start your labor so that you can deliver your baby vaginally. This is called "labor induction."
When you are in labor you will have regular contractions of the uterus. These contractions are accompanied by ongoing to changes in your cervix, the narrow, outer end of your uterus. During labor, the cervix becomes softer and shorter, thins out, and then opens before birth. During a vaginal delivery your baby comes through your cervix into the vagina (birth canal). For additional information please visit the page labor and birth.
If your labor is slow to start your health care provider may want to help labor begin. This
is called inducing labor or labor induction and some women request an induction even without medical need. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 20% of births in the United States are induced.
The most common reason for labor induction is that the pregnancy has gone 2 weeks or more past the due date. Your health care provider may also recommend labor induction if you have medical problems.
An induction can take a few hours or as long as 2-3 days. It depends on how your body responds to the treatment. Below are listed four of the most common ways used to induce labor:
Separating the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus
Ripening the cervix with medication
Giving you a drug to start contractions: a commonly used drug is oxytocin (Pitocin)
Breaking your water (also called rupturing the membranes)
Like any medical procedure, induction has side effects and risks. The March of Dimes (Induction by request) recommends that labor be induced only when the health of the woman or baby is at risk. Some of these risks include:
If your labor does not start with medicine, you might need to have a cesarean section.
The medicines can make labor contractions very strong and lower your baby's heart rate.
Women who have inductions and their babies are at increased risk of infection.
The baby may have problems with the umbilical cord.
Inductions may contribute to the growing number of babies who are born between 34-36 weeks gestation.
Do-it-yourself techniques to induce labor have not been proven to be both safe and effective. Below are some of the techniques you may have heard about, but should avoid:
Nipple stimulation: twisting or pinching your nipples
Sexual intercourse: having sex will not induce labor
Consuming castor oil
Taking a variety of herbal remedies
Make sure to discuss labor induction with your health care provider at one of your prenatal visits.
March of Dimes: Inducing labor
Family doctor: Labor induction
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