Induced labour: what you need to know

If you’re past your due date, or there is potential risk to you or your baby, you may be offered an induction of labour. Here is a quick overview. 

While most women will go into labour before 42 weeks of pregnancy, after this time there may be complications for mother and child if the pregnancy continues without medical intervention. 

An induction is an artificial way of beginning labour and is carried out when your medical team believe that this is the best possible scenario for you and your baby. 

Reasons you may be induced 

For some women, having their baby induced may reduce medical issues, or they may choose an induction for personal reasons. 
 
Reasons for inducing labour include:
  • Your baby’s health
  • Your pregnancy is now overdue.
  • Your waters have broken but your labour hasn't begun. (Usually, labour begins within 24 hours of waters breaking). 
  • You have health issues due to conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.

What happens when you're induced

If your doctor and you have decided that an induction is the best choice for you and your baby, there are various methods which may be used. In some cases, these methods are repeated if they do not induce labour. 

Membrane sweep

What is it? 
Also called a cervical sweep, this procedure can help to stimulate labour. Your midwife or doctor will manually stimulate your cervix to encourage the release of hormones called prostaglandins, which help trigger labour. 

Who is offered it? 
If this is your first baby, a membrane sweep will be offered if you haven't gone into labour by 40 weeks of pregnancy. 
For some women, one membrane sweep may not be enough to trigger labour, and they may be offered it at least two more times, before other induction methods are considered.

Does it hurt? 
A membrane sweep is usually more uncomfortable than painful. Deep, controlled breathing may help you to relax. Tell your midwife or doctor if you do experience pain. 

Prostaglandin

What is it? 
Prostaglandin is a hormone-like substance which can help to stimulate uterine contractions. They increase the possibility of labour within 24 hours of application. Your midwife or doctor will insert a tablet, pessary or gel containing prostaglandin into your vagina, to encourage the opening of the cervix and bringing on labour. 

Who is offered it? 
If a membrane sweep hasn't encouraged labour, you may be offered a prostaglandin application. 

Does it hurt? 
It shouldn't. This is the most common form of induction, as there is more chance that a vaginal birth will occur following application. 

Pregnant lady in hospital
Cervical-ripening balloon catheter

What is it?
Instead of prostaglandin, your doctor may recommend using a cervical-ripening balloon catheter. A thin tube or catheter with an inflatable balloon at the end will be inserted into your cervix and the balloon will be inflated with sterile salt water (saline). The balloon then applies pressure to the cervix, which should soften and open it. 

Who is offered it?
If a membrane sweep hasn't encouraged labour, your doctor may recommend this procedure instead of a prostaglandin.  

Does it hurt? 
This procedure is more uncomfortable than painful. After the procedure, while your midwife periodically checks you and your baby's heartbeat. Within 15 hours of the catheter insertion, you will be re-examined. 

Oxytocin

What is it? 
When a woman goes into labour, her body produces the hormone oxytocin. A synthetic version of this hormone is used, to encourage contractions. It is given via an intravenous drip, so the hormone will go directly into your bloodstream. 

Who is offered it? 
Women whose labour hasn't begun after a sweep or prostaglandin. 

Does it hurt? 
The delivery of oxytocin won’t be painful but it can bring labour on and the contractions may be painful. 

 If your midwife or doctor has suggested an induction, speak to them about your concerns or fears. It is your choice whether to have an induction, but remember that your medical team will have you and your baby's health as their prime consideration. 

Speak to your midwife or doctor about any pain relief options you may consider, or other interventions which could occur. 

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