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Why do Doctors Induce Labor?

By O. Wallace
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many reasons why a healthcare professional may choose to induce a woman’s labor, including because the mother wishes it or because of a medical emergency. Although it is usually a safe medical intervention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend against elective induced labor before 39 weeks gestation.

The typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, which is a long time for the woman enduring it. If labor hasn’t started by 42 weeks, a healthcare professional will induce labor. After 42 weeks, the baby is at risk due to a deteriorating placenta. Most medical professionals, however, schedule an induction if labor has not begun by the 40th week.

There are many medical complications that can lead to the need to induce labor. Complications, such as hypertension and preeclampsia, which cause high blood pressure, headaches, and excessive fluid retention, often mean that labor needs to be induced for the sake of the mother and baby. Heart disease, bleeding during the pregnancy, and gestational diabetes are other complications that require a medical professional to induce to ensure that the mother and baby both receive the medical treatment they require.

If, for any reason, the baby is in distress and seems to be deprived of oxygen or nutrients, labor may be induced if the pregnancy is close to full term. Sometimes, a baby may seem very small for its gestational age, and the healthcare professional may decide that it's best to induce to see if there's a problem. If a mother’s water, or amniotic sac, has broken and labor does not start within 24 to 48 hours, a medical professional will get things moving due to the possibility of a bacterial infection. A uterine infection called chorioamnionitis is another reason to do so.

Some women schedule their labor due to their or the father’s work, or because they want to ensure that out-of-town family is present for the birth. Women carrying multiples and attempting vaginal delivery may choose to induce as well. Different healthcare professionals have different policies on why or even if they allow elective induced labor, so a woman who may want to electively induce should discuss it well in advance.

To induce labor, the healthcare professional will administer oxytocin and/or prostaglandin, which are hormones that stimulate the contractions of labor. If the cervix is ripe, these should jump-start labor reasonably fast. Two non-medicinal interventions include artificial rupture of the membranes (AROM) and stripping the membranes. While some women respond quickly, others may take two to three days to get labor going.

As with any medical intervention, there are risks involved with inducing labor. First of all, it simply may not work — every woman responds differently, and every labor is unpredictable.

Sometimes, an induction may end with a cesarean for many different reasons: the baby could not make it through the birth canal, the cervix wasn’t adequately ripened, or the long labor put the baby in distress. There is a slight risk of uterine tear due to abnormal contractions that may result from the use of the artificial hormones. Oxytocin, on rare occasions, can cause low blood pressure and low blood sodium, which can cause seizures.

Another concern is if the expected delivery date (EDD) has been miscalculated. The healthcare professional may believe that the baby is 38 weeks old, which is a safe age for delivery, but in reality, the baby may be a few weeks younger. This is called a late pre-term baby, and complications similar to those associated with a pre-term baby may result. For these reasons, the person making the decision to induce labor must carefully weigh the benefits against the risks.

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Discussion Comments
By anon926680 — On Jan 20, 2014

I’ve had three pregnancies, all overdue 41, 42 and 41 weeks. With my first two, they induced and they where horrific experiences with complications. My third was scheduled to be induced, but labor started naturally a few hours before. I had no complications and the pain was tolerable. I had no pain medicine. I had the gradual onset of contractions. They were not overwhelming and it was way better.

I am 41 weeks and one day with my fourth and I am being scheduled for induction. I want to add that I never agreed with any of the inductions. I was more forced and pushed into them. I have healthy pregnancies and good blood pressure. The only reason they want to induce me is I'm overdue.

I had two normal, 7 pound babies. The one that went two weeks overdue was nine pounds. I am still willing to take the risks, but they will not give me the option to go into natural labor and have scheduled me.

I feel that perhaps my children just take a bit longer. They are all healthy, smart kids with no problems. If anything, they’re pretty bright. These doctors can't assume all pregnancies are the same and that maybe pregnancies are just a bit longer for some women.

By anon159618 — On Mar 12, 2011

I'm in my third pregnancy right now and here's my thing on induction. It's a pain and it doesn't always work.

I was high risk with my first and he was born on his due date but if he hadn't been they would have induced within a few days.

With my second, I was a week overdue with no dilation. It took longer than it should have, plus my son had the cord around his neck and was bruised and scratched from the birth. Even though I asked the doctor about my options weeks before.

Two pregnancies with two different doctors and now I'm debating on using a new one with this pregnancy to see if it goes any better.

By anon142110 — On Jan 12, 2011

I had my son at 42 weeks and two days with no complications whatsoever. I went into labor naturally and all 73 hours of labor with no drugs at all.

I had my daughter at 38 weeks naturally and she was tiny -- only 5.4 pounds. My son was 7.15 oz My daughter had problems eating, sleeping, was colicky and is now 18 months old and still wears 9-12 months clothes and fits most 6-9 months pants. She is still very small.

I think people need to stop being control freaks and let it happen when it is supposed to. Who are you to play god or decide your children's birthdays?

I think if there is no medical reason to induce, stop being lazy and buck up, ladies.

By anon127375 — On Nov 16, 2010

I agree with all the above. I'm in my third pregnancy and my first was born at 37 weeks perfectly health. My second was born at 38 weeks perfectly healthy. Now my doctor wants me to wait 39/40 weeks to give birth to my third baby. I mean, sheesh, what's the hold up?

No one should have to wait the whole 42 weeks or more unless due to medical reasons concerning the baby. I agree that we should be able to decide as long as we have made it to 37/38 weeks with no complications.

By anon82091 — On May 04, 2010

I feel every woman is different and if she is at least 38 weeks she should be able to make her decision rather to get induced. it shouldn't be the doctor's choice as long as the baby is healthy.

By anon80561 — On Apr 27, 2010

My body doesn't go into labor naturally. In point of fact, I was 44.5 weeks pregnant and my body went into labor. After laboring 38 hours the doc finally broke my water, so now I know I have to have the doc break my water or I don't dilate.

Women should have the right to choose whether to induce or not, without others telling them what is best for them.

By anon60355 — On Jan 13, 2010

Shouldn't each woman be evaluated individually, though, and if no warning signs are present, let her go into labor spontaneously, which is better for her and the baby (but not necessarily the doctor)? As long as mom and baby are healthy, there is no need to induce, and women shouldn't be subjected to scare tactics from their doctor.

By anon17024 — On Aug 20, 2008

Interesting...I wonder has the author considered the stats on complications for women and infants when pregnancy continues. Google it. The rise in complications at and around 40 weeks is dramatic.

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