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I’m Being Induced! What Should I Expect?

The goal of any healthcare practitioner is to carry all pregnancies to term, or 39 weeks. This means that generally speaking, labor shouldn’t be induced electively before that time—however, certain situations can come up when your body’s natural processes need a little nudge in the right direction. 

What Does It Mean to be Induced?

Being induced simply means that your labor contractions are started using medications or other methods because they aren’t starting naturally. There are a series of steps your doctor will follow to try to induce your labor, and most women don’t have to go through all of them! 

Reasons Your Doctor Might Induce Labor

Your baby is overdue. 

If it’s time for your baby to make their debut, but there are no signs of action from your body, your doctor might induce labor around the 42-week mark. 

You’re experiencing complications. 

Conditions like preeclampsia, diabetes or gestational diabetes, issues with your placenta, or problems with your amniotic fluid make it risky to keep carrying your pregnancy. Your doctor may choose to induce your labor as soon as it’s safe to reduce the effects of these risks. 

Broken water, but no contractions.

If your water has broken, but your contractions don’t start on their own within 24 hours, your doctor might need to get them started for you. 

You live far from the hospital. 

If you live far away from your hospital, your doctor might choose to induce labor to minimize the risk of not making it in time. On average, second-time moms experience much shorter labor than they did during their first time—so if your first baby came very quickly, your doctor might decide to induce your second to make sure you’re at the hospital when you need to be. This is known as an elective induction because it’s planned ahead of time and occurs no earlier than 39 weeks. 

How Does It Work?

As mentioned above, there are a series of steps your doctor will go through to induce your labor. It’s fairly rare that a doctor has to go through every step to jumpstart your labor, but it is possible. 

The first thing your doctor will try is ripening your cervix. Typically in natural labor, your cervix will open up, soften, and thin out in preparation for your baby. Your doctor might have to move things alone themselves, and they’ll do this by applying a topical form of the hormone prostaglandin to your cervix. After a few hours, labor could be well on its way—if it isn’t, your doctor will continue down the chain of steps toward successfully inducing your labor. 

If your amniotic sac is still intact, meaning your water hasn’t broken, your doctor may get things started by swiping their finger across the fine membranes that connect it—the goal here isn’t to break your water, although that’s a possibility. Your doctor’s goal is to encourage your uterus to release prostaglandin as you would naturally if your labor was starting. This should cause your cervix to soften, and your contractions to start. This is called “membrane stripping.”

If your cervix has started dilating, but your water hasn’t broken yet, your doctor might break it artificially. They’ll do this with an instrument that looks like a long crochet hook with a sharp tip—but don’t worry, while it might not be the most comfortable experience, it shouldn’t be painful. 

If nothing your doctor tries is bringing on regular contractions, they will slowly start to give you Pitocin via IV. Pitocin is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin and should induce contractions. Contractions typically start about 30 minutes after you’ve been given the medication, and they’re usually stronger, more regular, and more frequent than natural labor contractions. If you’d like an epidural, you should ask your doctor about getting that started while the Pitocin is being administered, so that it’s ready to go once your labor starts. 

When is a C-Section the Best Option?

There are exceptions to every rule when it comes to pregnancy and the human body, which means that there are certain situations where labor shouldn’t be induced—in these situations, your doctor will recommend a c-section instead. Here are a few reasons you might have a c-section instead of being induced:

  • If there’s a need for immediate delivery, i.e. there’s no time to waste
  • If there’s any doubt at all that your baby can fit through your pelvis
  • If you’ve had a c-section before, and now you’re attempting a vaginal birth
  • If the placenta is near or covering your cervix
  • If there’s a prolapsed cord, i.e. it has slipped down into the vagina before the baby’s head
  • If you’re experiencing a genital herpes outbreak
  • If you’re carrying multiple babies
  • If your baby is breech

Keep in mind that your doctor’s goal is to minimize interventions as best they can, and will only induce your labor or recommend a c-section if they decide it’s necessary. 

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