Induction refers to using strategies to begin the process of labor in a pregnant person. There are several ways to induce labor, including medications. Doctors will sometimes induce labor when the health of the pregnant person or fetus is in question. Induction is not always the best option, and there are risks to inducing labor.
Why Induce Labor?
Typically, contractions occur naturally and start the process of labor. Doctors may induce labor if:
- Labor hasn’t started on its own.
- There are concerns for the pregnant person’s health.
- There are concerns about the baby’s health.
There’s also research that suggests that inducing labor in people who are at 39 weeks into their first pregnancy may reduce their risk of needing a cesarean. It can also reduce the complications that come with that type of birth.
Pregnant people who get an induction at 39 weeks may also have a lower risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or high blood pressure.
In some people, the water breaks, but labor doesn’t start. This is another situation where labor induction may be necessary. A doctor may also suggest inducing labor if you have a history of stillbirth.
What Are the Risks of a Cesarean?
A cesarean is sometimes necessary, but it does carry some important risks such as:
- Excessive bleeding
- Injury to the bladder or bowels
- Increased risk for future pregnancies
A cesarean is a surgery, so it requires much more recovery than vaginal birth.
Inducing labor comes with a few risks, including:
- It may cause too many contractions, stressing the baby.
- There is a risk of infection in the pregnant person or baby.
- You will often spend more time in the hospital than you would have with natural labor.
However, research suggests that inducing labor in most healthy people at full term (39 weeks) does not increase the risk of complications in newborns.
How Is Induction Done?
Induction is usually performed at or after 39 weeks. In some cases, a doctor may induce pregnancy before 39 weeks. They will do so if the health of the baby or pregnant person is in danger should the pregnancy continue.
Options for inducing labor include:
- Cervical ripening: This involves softening and thinning the cervix to help with dilation. To do this, a doctor may prescribe medications such as prostaglandins. A manual procedure to widen the cervix with an inflatable tube may also help move along labor.
- Oxytocin: This hormone causes uterine contractions. Doctors may prescribe oxytocin to induce labor or speed it up.
- Amniotic sac rupture: Using a medical tool, your doctor may break your bag of water to help you go into labor. In medical terms, this is described as an amniotomy to rupture the amniotic sac. Even in natural labor, a doctor may do this if your water hasn’t broken on its own.
- Stripping the membranes: During this procedure, a healthcare professional gently moves their gloved finger over the membranes connecting the amniotic sac to the uterus. The manual motion encourages the body to release prostaglandins and increase contractions naturally.
There’s no guarantee that these strategies will induce labor. In some cases, induction will fail. The pregnant person may go home and return at a later date to try again. If required, a doctor may also perform a cesarean.
What about natural ways to jumpstart labor? Do they exist? Some suggestions you may see floating around include:
- Have sex
- Eat pineapple
- Get acupuncture
Most of the suggestions out there for naturally inducing labor are anecdotal and not backed by research. Even though some natural options may produce contractions, they won’t induce labor and may cause more harm than good.
If you’re interested in natural ways to induce labor, talk to your doctor. They can tell you if it’s safe to proceed. Some things, like eating pineapple, for example, aren’t likely to help start or speed up labor, but they probably won’t hurt. That said, it’s better to check with your doctor first.
A Word From Verywell
Many people seem to think that “natural” is better. But sometimes, the human body needs a little help. Inducing labor can help pregnant people avoid the risks of cesarean birth and other pregnancy complications.
If you’re wondering if labor induction is the right choice for you, talk to your OB-GYN. Your doctor can help you decide on the best course of action and explain the process in detail so you can feel comfortable going in.
Ultimately, it’s your body, and the decision is up to you. But it’s essential to be well informed and know the risks and benefits.