Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

What to expect when labor is induced

You’ve created a birth plan — only to find that your doctor has other plans in the home stretch. Whether you’re past your due date or experiencing fetal distress, your doctor may choose to induce labor. Wondering what your labor may be like if your OB/GYN or midwife chooses medication versus a drug-free way to induce labor? Find out what to expect when labor is induced.


The National Center for Health Statistics reports that induction of labor occurred in 23.1% of all births in 2008, but there is more than one way to get to the goal of delivering your bundle of joy. “There are two main types of medications used to induce labor,” offers Dr. Burt Webb of Scottsdale Center for Women’s Health. “However, most cervical agents, such as prostaglandins and cervical balloons, are more often associated with more gentle contractions.” Here are the most common types of methods used to induce labor.

1Stripping membranes

During your weekly exams, your OB/GYN may choose to “strip” your membranes, which is more or less an aggressive pelvic exam. Your practitioner will run an examining finger inside of your cervix, separating the amniotic sac from the rim.

Stripping your membranes once won’t necessarily put you into full-blown labor, but expect heightened discomfort during the procedure coupled with contractions.

>> Is it safe to get my membranes stripped?

2Breaking your water

Your doctor may choose to artificially break your bag of water, also known as an amniotomy, to increase your body’s production of the hormone prostaglandin, which stimulates contractions.

The physician will use an amniohook, much like a plastic crochet hook, to rupture your amniotic membranes and cause your amniotic fluid to leak out. Lying on your back for the procedure, you will likely feel a trickle or gush of warm fluid that will flow onto special towels or into a basin. The procedure causes no pain to you or your unborn baby.

>> What does it feel like you’re your water breaks?


Oxytocin, also known as Pitocin or Syntocinon, is a common medication used to induce labor. This synthetic hormone is given via an intravenous drip into a vein in your hand or arm and can be increased as needed.

Some women feel that oxytocin, which is used to stimulate uterine contractions, causes stronger contractions than natural contractions. It is also given to most new mommies after delivery to control bleeding after childbirth.

4Cervical medication

Another common drug, called dinoprostone, is a prostaglandin inserted as a vaginal suppository. Also known as Cervidil or Prostin E2, it causes softening (also known as ripening) and dilation of the cervix and is one of the ways to induce labor.

Your OB/GYN or midwife will apply the cervical medication while you’re lying down, where you’ll have to remain for at least 15 minutes. If you don’t feel contractions within six hours, be prepared to get a possible second dose of this synthetic hormone. Otherwise, expect to have regular contractions within a few hours.

5Cervical balloon

In lieu of medication to induce labor, your practitioner may choose to insert a Foley catheter balloon into the opening of your cervix. A “balloon” is inserted into the opening of your cervix and inflated with normal saline solution to introduce pressure and encourage your body to release prostaglandins, which cause your cervix to dilate.

If the balloon catheter is not naturally expelled, it will be removed once your water breaks or six hours later, whichever happens first, offering a drug-free way to induce labor.

Your OB/GYN or midwife is the only one who can determine whether or not to artificially induce labor, but many believe that there are natural ways to induce labor without medical involvement. The healthiest choice for your baby is to go to term, but just in case your circumstances determine otherwise, you can have peace of mind knowing what to expect when labor is induced.

More on labor

Signs labor will be starting soon
Is it really labor?
What is false labor?

Leave a Comment

Comments are closed.