Medical reasons for inducing labor

KEY POINTS

  • Inducing labor (also called labor induction) is when your provider gives you medicine or breaks your water to make labor start.

  • Your provider may recommend inducing labor if your health or your baby’s health is at risk or if you’re 2 weeks or more past your due date. 

  • Inducing labor should only be for medical reasons. If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s best to wait for labor to start on its own.

  • If your provider recommends inducing labor, ask about waiting until at least 39 weeks to be induced so your baby has time to develop in the womb.

What is inducing labor?

Inducing labor (also called labor induction) is when your health care provider gives you medicine or uses other methods, like breaking your water (amniotic sac), to make your labor start. The amniotic sac (also called bag of waters) is the sac inside the uterus (womb) that holds your growing baby. The sac is filled with amniotic fluid. Contractions are when the muscles of your uterus get tight and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out of your uterus.

Your provider may recommend inducing labor if your health or your baby’s health is at risk or if you’re 2 weeks or more past your due date. For some women, inducing labor is the best way to keep mom and baby healthy. Inducing labor should be for medical reasons only. 

If there are medical reasons to induce your labor, talk to your provider about waiting until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. This gives your baby the time she needs to grow and develop before birth. Scheduling labor induction should be for medical reasons only. 

What are medical reasons for inducing labor?

Your provider may recommend inducing labor if:

  • Your pregnancy lasts longer than 41 to 42 weeks. After 42 weeks, the placenta may not work as well as it did earlier in pregnancy. The placenta grows in your uterus (womb) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.
  • Your placenta is separating from your uterus (also called placental abruption) or you have an infection in your uterus.
  • Your water breaks before labor begins. This is called premature rupture of membranes (also called PROM).
  • You have health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure or preeclampsia or problems with your heart, lungs or kidneys. Diabetes is when your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in your blood. This can damage organs in your body, including blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. High blood pressure is when the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels is too high and stresses your heart. Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth (called postpartum preeclampsia).
  • Your baby has a stopped growing. Or your baby has oligohydramnios. This means your baby doesn’t have enough amniotic fluid.
  • You have Rh disease and it causes problems with your baby’s blood.

What are the risks of scheduling labor induction for non-medical reasons?

Scheduling labor induction may cause problems for you and your baby because your due date may not be exactly right. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly when you got pregnant. If you schedule labor induction and your due date is off by a week or 2, your baby may be born too early. Babies born early (called premature babies) may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born on time. This is why it’s important to wait until at least 39 weeks to induce labor.

If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s best to let labor begin on its own. If your provider talks to you about inducing labor, ask if you can wait until at least 39 weeks to be induced. This gives your baby’s lungs and brain all the time they need to fully grow and develop before he’s born. 

If there are problems with your pregnancy or your baby’s health, you may need to have your baby earlier than 39 weeks. In these cases, your provider may recommend an early birth because the benefits outweigh the risks. Inducing labor before 39 weeks of pregnancy is recommended only if there are health problems that affect you and your baby.

If your provider recommends inducing labor, ask these questions:

  • Why do we need to induce my labor?
  • Is there a problem with my health or the health of my baby that may make inducing labor necessary before 39 weeks? Can I wait to have my baby closer to 39 weeks?
  • How will you induce my labor?  
  • What can I expect when you induce labor?
  • Will inducing labor increase the chance that I'll need to have a c-section?
  • What are my options for pain medicine?

Last reviewed: September, 2018

See also: 39 weeks infographic