Induction of labour is recommended when it is safer for your baby to be born in the next few days rather than for the pregnancy to continue. This could be to do with the way your baby is growing, or your own health, or other factors. It is important to know what’s involved in induction, in order to make an informed decision about your baby’s birth. 

Inductions usually take place in hospital, although in some cases you can spend some time at home in the first stages.

The process of induction can take one, two or several days. The first step is to prepare the cervix (neck of the womb) so it softens and opens slightly. This may be with medication in the vagina or by inserting a device which can gently and gradually stretch the cervix. This part of the process may last for a day or so. 

Sometimes the first step will be enough to start labour contractions, which may progress similarly to a labour which starts without intervention. Often the next step is needed, where your waters are broken by a midwife or doctor. The release of waters reduces the pressure in your womb and sometimes this will trigger contractions to start. 

If the release of waters does not trigger contractions, then medication in a drip (syntocinon) can be used to cause contractions. 

For around one in five women, induction doesn’t work, and other options are discussed. Overall, for women who have not had a baby vaginally before, there is around one in a third chance of having a vaginal birth without assistance, an assisted birth or caesarean section.

Your midwife will be able to discuss this with you, taking into account your own circumstances.

If your pregnancy reaches 41 weeks, then your midwife will discuss the options of having your labour induced if induction is suitable. At this stage, your midwife may offer you a vaginal examination and procedure to help encourage the labour naturally. This is called a membrane sweep.

It is normal for pregnancy to last up to 42 weeks. As induction often takes a couple of days, it is offered during week 41 to ensure that your pregnancy does not continue beyond 42 weeks, unless it’s your preference. You may wish to wait a few more days to allow your body to go into labour if possible. You can have additional monitoring if you would rather do this. You can discuss the risks and benefits with your midwife before making any decision. Information on this choice is set out here.

You may be advised to have your labour induced if your waters have broken for longer than 24 hours without labour starting, or there are concerns about you or your baby’s health.