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Inducing Labor

Dr. Milroy J Samuel

Reviewed by
Dr. Milroy J Samuel

Inducing labor is a common procedure. When allowing pregnancy to continue becomes risky, it is sometimes necessary to induce labor. The process of inducing labor usually begins with prostaglandins, which are hormones that soften the cervix and prepare it for labor.

They can be given in pill form or applied inside the vagina near the cervix. The goal of induction is to jumpstart contractions.

There are many different reasons why a doctor may recommend inducing labor, but it’s usually done if the pregnancy extends past the due date, if there’s an infection in the mother’s uterus, or if the mother has certain medical conditions like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

There are risks involved, since inductions are done to bring on labor when the body isn’t ready. In some rare cases inductions have failed, or have led to further interventions, continuous monitoring, and bed confinement.

It’s highly recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits involved with induction.

Medical Methods for Inducing Labor

Below are some of the common ways you and your doctor can choose to induce labor. Which method your doctor recommends will depend on your condition. Some of these methods can be more painful than others, but some pain is always necessary when giving birth.

Amniotomy: This method of inducing labor is also known as breaking the water and rupturing the amniotic sac. During a vaginal exam, your doctor will use a little plastic hook to break the membranes. This usually brings on labor within a matter of hours.

Administering the hormone Prostagladin to ripen the cervix: A gel or vaginal insert of prostaglandin is inserted into the vagina, or a tablet is given to the mother orally. This is done overnight to make the cervix soft and dilated for delivery.

Administering the hormone Oxytocin to stimulate contractions: This hormone is administered to the patient continuously through an IV, starting with a small dose. The dosage is then increased until labor is progressing well.

After it’s administered, the fetus and uterus are watched very closely. Oxytocin is also frequently used to spur labor that’s going slowly or has stalled. About one out of every 50 oxytocin injections fails to stimulate labor.

Natural Methods of Inducing Labor

Unfortunately, inducing labor is only safe and reliable when its done in a hospital setting. There are no proven non-medical methods to induce labor. However, experts believe there are some methods that don’t hurt to try, including:

Sex: While there is no proof that sex can induce labor, it does cause a prostaglandin release, which is similar to the medication mentioned above. Sex at this point in the pregnancy is typically safe as long as the doctor says so.

Long Walks: Some experts argue that walking for long periods does nothing to induce labor. However, short walks may help a woman to relax, allowing labor to occur. Talk with your healthcare provider about this method.

Evening Primrose Oil: This herbal solution contains a precursor to prostaglandins, which tend to help the cervix prepare for labor. However, most experts agree that the effectiveness of this oil needs to be studied more.

Be careful of castor oil and cohosh. Some women believe ingesting a small amount of castor oil during your 38th week of pregnancy can induce labor and increase your chances of having your baby on time. However, castor oil is known to cause intense diarrhea.

Still, once labor begins, castor oil can help to stimulate the bowels, which puts pressure on the uterus.

Cohosh is an herb that contains phytoestrogens, which are known to affect blood clotting. Most medical professionals therefore do not recommend it.

Some people believe spicy foods will help induce labor, but like other natural methods, this seems to be a myth — the stomach and uterus have no direct relationship.

[Page updated August 2016]