Inducing labour

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 5 May 2008

There are many reasons why doctors induce labour: for medical reasons, because your pregnancy has come full term, or personal choice (you or your doctor think it best to induce). Here's our guide.

Why do doctors induce labour in some cases?
There are medical reasons why labour might need inducing artificially, mainly if the pregnancy has gone beyond full term and the baby shows no signs of making its way into the world on its own.
A term pregnancy is 39 weeks (dating from the date of your last period), with a 2-week flexibility margin (i.e. 41 weeks). After 41 weeks, the placenta may not function properly and the baby could suffer from a lack of oxygen and heart problems. Mother and baby will be closely monitored, and if everything is going well, it's possible to wait a bit before inducing labour. However, it's common to induce labour at this point to avoid any risks. Note that not all doctors may agree on this point.

Other factors that are taken into account in deciding whether or not to induce are: personal reasons (such as work commitments), the hospital/clinic's organisation and planning, and whether you want your own doctor to assist at the birth.

What happens?
Labour can be induced by:
- artificially breaking your waters;
- giving you a pessary or hormones (prostaglandin)that are absorbed into your cervix;
- giving you hormones straight into your blood through an oxytocin drip.

Advantages
When labour is induced, the birth can be monitored from start to finish, and it's reassuring for the mum-to-be to know she's in safe hands (no clock-watching, 24-hour contractions or unexpected breaking of the waters). Some women ask to be induced for these reasons. Doctors may also be able to react fast to any complications.

Drawbacks
Sometimes the neck of the uterus doesn't dilate enough, in which case a Caesarean will be required. If the birth was induced for convenience, it raises the question of whether or not it is medically justified: birth is a natural phenomenon and should we not accept that we can't control everything right from conception through to birth?