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Inducing labour

How and why labour can be induced, and the different methods that can be used to induce labour.

Some babies need a little help to be born. When a procedure to induce (start) your labour is recommended, ask questions to make sure you're comfortable with it. You should know what the risks and alternatives are.

One of the main risks is that the contractions could become too frequent. Too many contractions can harm your baby. You are entitled to information about this. Do not be afraid to ask for extra information.

When is labour induced

This is generally needed if your baby is overdue, or if:

  • your waters have broken, but labour has not started
  • the health of you or your baby is at risk

Methods of inducing labour

There are many ways of inducing labour.

Prostaglandin gel

This is a hormonal gel that is inserted into the vagina. It encourages the cervix to soften and open. It can take up to 72 hours to work. Once labour starts, it should continue normally.

Sometimes a removal form of prostaglandin is used.

Membrane sweep

This involves having a specific vaginal examination aimed at stimulating the neck of your womb (the cervix). This will produce hormones that may trigger labour to begin.

Artificial rupture of membranes

Occasionally your midwife or doctor will need to break your water. This is called an 'amniotomy'.

The membranes may be ruptured using a specialised tool, such as an amnihook or amnicot. They may also be ruptured by the doctor's finger.

Balloons

Labour can be induced by placing a small tube with a small balloon on the end of it in the neck of the womb. This method avoids any risk of too many contractions.

Oxytocin

The body produces a hormone called oxytocin in labour. Sometimes you will need synthetic oxytocin during labour, to induce or to make your contractions more regular.

Oxytocin is usually only used after the membranes have ruptured. Too much oxytocin can cause too many contractions. Discuss this with your doctor or midwife if you are worried about it.

Page last reviewed: 18/09/2018
Next review due: 18/09/2021