An induced labour is one that's started artificially. Every year, 1 in 5 labours are induced in the UK.
Sometimes labour can be induced if your baby is overdue or there's any risk to you or your baby's health. This risk could be if you have a health condition such as high blood pressure, for example, or your baby is not growing.
Induction will usually be planned in advance. You'll be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with your doctor and midwife, and find out why they think your labour should be induced.
It's your choice whether to have your labour induced or not.
If your pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks and you decide not to have your labour induced, you should be offered increased monitoring to check your baby's wellbeing.
If you're being induced, you'll go into the hospital maternity unit.
Contractions can be started by inserting a tablet (pessary) or gel into your vagina.
Induction of labour may take a while, particularly if the cervix (the neck of the uterus) needs to be softened with pessaries or gels.
You will usually stay in the hospital maternity unit while you wait for it to work.
If you've had no contractions after 6 hours, you may be offered another tablet or gel.
If you have a controlled-release pessary inserted into your vagina, it can take 24 hours to work. If you are not having contractions after 24 hours, you may be offered another dose.
Sometimes a hormone drip is needed to speed up the labour. Once labour starts, it should proceed normally, but it can sometimes take 24 to 48 hours to get you into labour.
You might decide that you don’t want an induction of labour. If you feel that you would prefer to wait for a few more days to allow your body to go into labour naturally, please discuss this with your midwife. They can organise an individual care plan for you and arrange for you to be seen by an obstetrician to discuss the risks and advantages of delaying induction of labour.
Find out more about inducing your labour here
A membrane sweep is a vaginal examination, which is offered to all women once they reach 41 weeks, to help encourage labour to start naturally. The midwife will insert a finger into your vagina and reach for the cervix. Once she has reached the cervix, she will do a circular ‘sweeping’ motion around the cervix to help separate the membrane sac from the cervix. This can release hormones in the body that will help your body to go into labour. This will normally work within 24hrs and there’s around a 50% chance of labour happening naturally. It is possible to have more than one membrane sweep, so please discuss this with your midwife.
Membrane sweeps can be uncomfortable, and you may have a small amount of mucousy bleeding afterwards.
There are no proven ways of starting your labour yourself at home.
You may have heard that certain things can trigger labour, such as herbal supplements and having sex, but there's no evidence that these work.
Having sex will not cause harm, but you should avoid having sex if your waters have broken as there's an increased risk of infection.
For more information on induction, you can read the NICE information for the public on induction of labour.
Despite covering several answers for the question of how is labour induced, it is important to note that induction is not always successful, and labour may not start.
Your obstetrician and midwife will assess your condition and your baby's wellbeing, and you may be offered another induction or a caesarean section.
Your midwife and doctor will discuss all your options with you.