How is labor induced?
"If a patient's cervix isn't dilated sufficiently, we have to prepare the cervix by softening it ourselves, usually using the hormone prostaglandin," explains Dr. Ramirez. To start contractions, an artificial form of oxytocin (the hormone that triggers labor), usually Pitocin, is administered intravenously. If you're already showing some signs of early labor, induction is most effective because your body is more primed and ready to go.
Rupturing the amniotic sac, or "breaking the water," is another way to induce labor. The doctor uses a sterile plastic hook to puncture the sac. The amniotic fluid it releases is rich in prostaglandins, which increase the strength and frequency of contractions. But if labor doesn't begin within several hours of this procedure, there's an increased risk of infection to your baby, who is no longer surrounded by the protective fluid.
Breaking the amniotic sac differs from membrane sweeping, where the membranes connected to your uterus are broken. The goal is to make your cervix start effacing and dilating on its own, thereby starting contractions.
There are no guarantees with any of these methods. "No one knows how the mother's body will respond until the induction begins," Ludka says. "It's also difficult to anticipate how the baby will respond to labor, whether artificial or natural, until labor begins." You could have a fast, smooth induction -- or you could have a prolonged experience.