Considering inducing labor? Understand who makes a good candidate for inducing labor and why the intervention isn't for everyone.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Nature controls most aspects of labor — but sometimes nature needs a nudge. If your health care provider decides you and your baby would benefit from delivering sooner rather than later, he or she might suggest inducing labor.

Your health care provider might recommend inducing labor for various reasons, primarily when there's concern for your health or your baby's health. For example:

  • You're approaching two weeks beyond your due date, and labor hasn't started naturally
  • Your water has broken, but you're not having contractions
  • There's an infection in your uterus
  • Your baby has stopped growing at the expected pace
  • There's not enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby (oligohydramnios)
  • The placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely (placental abruption)
  • You have a medical condition that might put you or your baby at risk, such as high blood pressure or diabetes

Up to two weeks after your due date, a wait-and-see approach might be preferable. Nature typically prepares the cervix for delivery in the most efficient, comfortable way. However, if your health care provider is concerned about your health or your baby's health or your pregnancy continues two weeks past your due date, inducing labor might be the best option.

Why the concern after two weeks? The longer your pregnancy continues, the larger your baby is likely to be — which might complicate a vaginal delivery. In a few cases, aging of the placenta might compromise a baby's ability to thrive in the womb. An overdue baby is also more likely to inhale fecal waste (meconium) during childbirth, which can cause breathing problems or a lung infection after birth.

If you're interested in an elective induction, discuss it with your health care provider. If you live far from the hospital or you have a history of rapid deliveries, a scheduled induction might be warranted. In such cases, your health care provider will confirm that your baby's gestational age is at least 39 weeks or older before induction to reduce the risk of health problems for your baby.

Although there are exceptions, elective induction generally isn't appropriate for lifestyle or work reasons. Keep in mind that unnecessary intervention poses unnecessary risks. Trust your health care provider to help you make the best decision in your case.

Probably not.

Nipple stimulation or breast massage might release the hormone oxytocin, which can lead to contractions. However, further research is needed to evaluate these techniques' safety and effectiveness, particularly in women who have high-risk pregnancies.

Other techniques for inducing labor — such as eating spicy food or having sex — aren't backed by scientific evidence. Get your health care provider's OK before trying any home remedies, herbal supplements or alternative treatments.

Inducing labor carries various risks, including:

  • The need for a C-section. Labor induction is more likely to result in the need for a C-section if your cervix hasn't already begun to thin, soften and dilate. The risk of a C-section with induction is also higher if you've never had a baby before.
  • Premature birth. Inducing labor too early might result in a premature birth, which poses risks for the baby, such as difficulty breathing.
  • Low heart rate. The medications used to induce labor — oxytocin or a prostaglandin — might provoke too many contractions, which can diminish your baby's oxygen supply and lower your baby's heart rate.
  • Infection. Some methods of labor induction, such as stripping or sweeping the membranes, breaking water, or placing a balloon catheter or seaweed rods into the cervix, might increase the risk of infection for both mother and baby.
  • Umbilical cord problems. Inducing labor increases the risk of the umbilical cord slipping into the vagina before delivery (umbilical cord prolapse), which might compress the cord and decrease the baby's oxygen supply.
  • Uterine rupture. This is a rare but serious complication in which the baby breaks through the wall of the uterus into the mother's abdominal cavity. Most cases occur in women who have a scarred uterus. An emergency C-section is needed to prevent life-threatening complications.
  • Bleeding after delivery. Labor induction increases the risk that your uterine muscles won't properly contract after you give birth (uterine atony), which can lead to serious bleeding after delivery.

Inducing labor is a serious decision. Work with your health care provider to make the best choice for you and your baby.

Jun. 20, 2014