Sometimes labour has to be started artificially because the baby is late – between 41 and 42 weeks – or because there is a risk to the health of the baby and/or the mother. Known as induction, this is a fairly common procedure - about 20% of pregnant women in the UK have labour induced.*
Induction is always planned in advance so that you’ll be able to discuss the reasons for it and the methods that are going to be used.
Ask your doctor to explain the procedures so that you know what to expect. Your personal circumstances and any preferences you may have will also be taken into account.
Why labour may be started artificially
When carried out at term this has been shown to increase the chance of labour starting naturally within 48 hours of having the procedure so it reduces the need for other methods of induction.
Unless your waters have broken, you should be offered this before other induction procedures are used. A doctor places a gloved finger just inside the cervix and makes a circular, sweeping movement to separate the membranes from the cervix.
Membrane sweeping can cause some discomfort and slight bleeding but it won’t increase the chance of infection.
These are hormones that help to induce labour by encouraging the cervix to soften and ripen and contractions to start.
Prostaglandins are given as a gel or pessary placed in the vagina. Your cervix will be assessed after six hours if a standard pessary is used, or after 24 hours if you have been given a slow release pessary.
Prostaglandins are usually given on the antenatal ward where your baby's heart rate can also be monitored. You may be able to go home after the procedure.
If your waters haven’t broken your healthcare professional may artificially break them. This procedure is done with a small instrument which is inserted into the vagina and cervix.
Although there is no risk to the baby, the procedure can be uncomfortable. This may be done before you are given prostaglandins. Once the waters are broken labour usually follows naturally.
This drug is an artificial form of the labour hormone, oxytocin. It is given through a drip which can be controlled so that contractions occur regularly until the baby is born. It is given on the labour ward so that your baby can be monitored continuously.
Labour that has been induced is often more intense than labour which starts naturally. You will be offered appropriate pain relief and you should be encouraged to use your own coping strategies, such as having a warm bath.
If labour doesn't start after induction your healthcare professionals will discuss your options. You may be offered another dose of prostaglandins or, in some cases a Caesarean section may be suggested.
*Source: NHS Choices