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What is inducing labour?

In this article, we will explore what we mean by "inducing labour", and include natural methods and medications.
A woman cradles her baby bump while holding an old fashioned alarm clock
© Shutterstock/KonstantinChristian

What is induction of labour?

Induction of labour is labour that is started artificially, without your body starting to labour naturally.

You may have your labour induced for one of several reasons, all relating to a concern with either you or your baby’s health and wellbeing.

Regardless of the reason, you will be involved in the decision with your doctor or midwife. There are quite a few different methods used to induce labour.

Having your labour induced

If you are having your labour induced, your clinician will give you a date and time to attend for starting your induction of labour.

For some women, induction of labour takes time and it may be several days from when your induction was started until your labour actually starts. Remember, everyone is different.

As induction is hopefully going to start your labour, you will still need to apply all of the strategies for labour.

Think about the following:

  • Creating a home-like environment
  • Involving your birth partner
  • Eating and drinking as you feel like
  • Upright positions
  • Music
  • Dim lighting
  • Massage
  • Birthing ball
  • Peanut ball
  • Resting
  • Breathing techniques

Different environments for inducing labour

Although this may be challenging in a hospital environment and labour room, it is still possible to achieve and will help your labour to progress successfully.

Some maternity hospitals may offer you a choice of returning home for some time at the start of, or during, the induction of your labour, but this depends on the reason that you are being induced as well as other factors.

Ask your doctor or midwife about this option.

Natural methods of induction

There are natural methods of inducing your labour. Some methods that you may hear about are:

  • Homoeopathy (there is no real evidence to support that homoeopathy will help to induce your labour)
  • A membrane sweep (a vaginal examination performed by your clinician where they will gently ease the membranes around the baby away from your cervix (neck of the womb). This can be effective but also uncomfortable.)
  • Acupuncture may also be successful in inducing your labour.
  • Sexual intercourse (sex, making love). Semen contains prostaglandins, which is one of the medications used to induce labour! However, there is no real evidence to support the benefits of intercourse for inducing labour.

Medications to induce labour

Many of the medications or other methods to induce labour are given vaginally. The clinician may insert one of the following into your vagina:

  • A pessary with a string attached (similar to a very tiny tampon)
  • A gel
  • A tablet or pill
  • A tiny rod
  • A tube with a tiny balloon

Each method and medication is used for slightly different reasons. Some of these medications can stay in place for up to 24 hours and may be repeated.

It is important to ask your clinician about the side effects/advantages/disadvantages of the medication or methods that are suggested for your induction of labour.

Other ways that might be used to induce labour include:

  • Breaking the waters surrounding your baby
  • Syntocinon drip

Breaking the waters surrounding your baby (Artificial Rupture of Membrane)

The Artificial Rupture of Membrane (or ARM) will only be possible to do if your cervix has opened slightly.

  • It might be done hours or a day or so after having a vaginal medication to induce your labour.
  • If you have had a baby before, it might be possible to break your waters, as your cervix may be slightly open.
  • If you have experienced some cramps, before your induction of labour, your cervix may be slightly open.

Syntocinon drip

This is an artificial (synthetic) version of natural oxytocin that your body would produce in labour. It means that you will need to have a cannula or needle in your hand or arm to receive this medication.

Labour might start after having just one medication inserted vaginally, but some women may need to have a second medication, have their waters broken and have an oxytocin drip as well. Talk with your midwife or doctor and clarify if your cervix is ready for the oxytocin drip or if another medication vaginally might be helpful first to get your cervix really ready.

During the induction of your labour

During the induction of your labour, it is important that you tell your midwife or doctor if you are feeling unwell, if the contractions are very frequent and long-lasting or if the contractions are constant with no breaks between them.

If your contractions are very strong and very close together, you can ask for the ‘drip’ to be slowed down or turned off for a while to give you a break (Boie et al, 2018). You and your baby will be closely monitored throughout an induction of labour.

© Trinity College Dublin
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