pregnant woman in the hospital for a labor induction
Labor + Delivery Prepping

Labor Induction: When, Why and How It's Done

By Hilary

As a labor and delivery nurse, I've seen some ladies drool with anticipation of an induction and the idea of no longer being pregnant and others terrified. I've also seen others irate at the “un-natural” ness of the whole moment.

Induction means the process or action of bringing about or giving rise to something. In labor, it means we are doing something to start your labor. If you are IN labor, and we speed it along, it’s called augmentation.

Why Labor Induction:

First, we’ll go through WHY someone might get induced. Not all of them are evidenced based and many are falling out of favor, but here are the historical reasons to induce someone.

Post Dates

Ladies, this isn’t counted in minutes, more and more it’s counted in weeks. Many hospitals will not induce someone for “post dates” until they are 41 weeks.  More and more studies are saying that babies need to cook ’til they’re good and ready. Although, I personally, prefer less-done brownies. I guess this doesn’t transfer to newborns.

Low Amniotic fluid

(called oligohydramnios – oligo for short) Your doctor will perform a test called an AFI (amniotic fluid index) via ultrasound. They measure the pockets of fluid in your uterus.  If it is low, they may suggest a labor induction. Less fluid gives less cushion for the ever-important umbilical cord. If it’s kinda low, they may just watch you and have it re-measured.


Diabetics tend to grow larger babies, and their pregnancies are more complicated in general, for various reasons. They used to try for much earlier on diabetic patients, but even now they’re allowing these babies to head to term. Fully cooked, baby!

Previous large baby

However, if you’ve HAD a previous large baby, that means you have a tested pelvis (aka, you can shove watermelon out that thing). This is being less and less of a reason.

Measuring big

Again, this needs to be done with an ultrasound – or, at least it should be.  A baby that’s too big can be a reason to end-up in a c-section. However, inducing before your cervix is ready, can also end-up a c-section. Catch 22. Durn it.

Measuring small

(also called IUGR – intra-uterine grown retardation – retardation being used because it means the baby has slowed its growth) This one, surprisingly, is even more important to keep an eye on than measuring big. This can mean the baby isn’t getting the nutrients they need. The doctor will usually take a look at how the baby is measuring over time. If you just have a small baby, that’s different than a baby who was measuring normal and is now measuring small. Again, this would usually be checked with an ultrasound (but often they would find an indication for the ultrasound by when they measure your belly at your Dr’s appointments).

Previous stillborn

Again, this a touchy one.  Everyone’s hopes are extra high when you’ve had a devastating loss in your past. But, it can be a reason.


(I said that just like the Doctor on Downton abbey – he says it much cooler than we do here in the good ol’ states!) or, eclampsia (which is usually seizing, in which case you’d have a c-section).  This is when your blood pressure is high, you’re swollen and a few other factors that we find out through blood tests. It’s pretty rare, but it is probably the #1 thing we watch for in pregnant moms (it’s part of why they check your pee at each visit). It can be REALLY scary.

Other illness

Be it a serious flu or something big. They may consider getting the baby out.  Honestly, if it’s something REALLY big they might consider a c-section if your life is in danger.  Being gravely ill with a baby inside is VERY hard on your body.  Getting the baby out improves everyone’s prognosis.

Your water is broken, and you are not contracting

The majority of people go into labor on their own after their water breaks, but frequently your uterus just could care less it just lost all its fluid.  Thoughtless of it, but we have ways to combat your stupid uterus.  Most often the doctors will give you a few hours to start contracting on your own, and if you don’t they will push hard to start some Pitocin.

Whatever the heck your doctor wants

Sometimes they come-up with the strangest things.  If you’re alert you’ll notice nursing giving looks to other nurses.  But that’s why they have the MD behind their name and I just have RN, BSN, BESTNURSEINTHEWORLD behind mine. 🙂

Elective Labor Induction

That means it’s just something you want to do.  Mom’s in town, husband’s leaving town, your uterus is touching your knees, whatever.  Those are all considered “elective”.  It’s entirely between you and your doctor, but important to note that elective inductions do go at the bottom of the pile of inductions.  We have had 4 or 5 inductions on hold before, and electives come in last.  If there’s no medical indication for the induction we need to take people who have a reason first. The end.

Medical Labor Inductions:

Now, if you’re still with me – we’ll go through HOW they might induce you.


It can go in the va-jazzle, in your mouth or even crushed and under your tongue or by your gums (wow, that sentence sounded kinda bad!). Really, the options are endless. The three I have used most often are Cytotec, Prepadil and Cervidil. There are pluses and minuses for all of them. Most doctors tend to have a favorite and just kind of stick with it. These tend to “soften” the cervix. Most are given when your cervix is less than 2-3 centimeters. If you’re past that point they will move on to….


(also called Pitocin, Oxytocin is the generic) — this goes in your IV. It is just a synthetic derivative of what your body produces naturally to get you into labor.  We start it slowly. Each hospital has a policy to increase it carefully while monitoring your uterus and your blood pressure.  We usually increase it until your contractions are 2-3 minutes apart, or your cervix is actively opening.

Foley Bulb Induction

It’s basically a little balloon that they fill up that gently pushes your cervix open until it falls out (because your cervix is large enough it won’t hold it in anymore).  Usually, it is followed-up by Oxytocin afterward, although sometimes people head into labor on their own.

“Strip your membranes”

That means that when they check your ol’ cervix they take their finger and ring it around between your cervix and your bag of waters. That releases hormones to shove you into labor. Personally, I think this gets it going if you’re already going into labor soon. If you’re not — it’s just a little pain with no gain. This is uncomfortable, but it’s quick and low-risk as far as birth inductions go.

Doctors can break your water

Sometimes they just have you come in, and then they break your water. The baby’s head needs to be well applied to the cervix to make this low enough risk for them to do it. This most often works well on women who have had previous babies and are fairly well dilated. BUT, once they start this, there’s no going back. With each of the other ways, you could stop and go home if the induction doesn’t work. If they break your water, you are committed. Just something to keep in mind.

As for what YOU can do to get the ol’ labor juices going….

I have no idea.

If I had a nickel for every time a friend begged me for ideas (I’d have a real nice set of sterile gloves)…. and frankly, I just don’t know. I just know I’d never take castor oil. I’ve seen the by-products and how LONG they continue and I’d steer clear of that one. BUT, Pregnant Chicken has a great post on just such a thing right here.

Now, before you ladies freak out with all this induction talk. There are REALLY reasons that people need to be induced. I think we can all agree with that. I am a big fan of going the full 40 and even beyond if your baby and uterus can’t agree {I personally went 12 days over}. Pregnancy is hard. Pamper yourself, enjoy that baby on the inside because soon enough that wee one will be screaming their lungs out in a car seat and you might even think it was easier when you were one and the same.

Unlike me, Hilary is a nurse who has worked in various medical fields for the past 17 years, however, none of the information on this blog should be substituted for the care of a physician. You’re smart. You get it. Call your doctor if something seems weird.

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