If you've reached this point in your pregnancy without going into labor, then you may be champing at the bit and ready to leap at any suggestion to speed things up. By 42 weeks, your practitioner may suggest inducing labor artificially. Many providers will consider this even earlier, at 41-42 weeks, especially if your cervix is open already.
About 15 percent of all labors are artificially induced in the United States, and there are certainly many situations where inducing labor seems like the best choice for both mom and her baby.
If you're overdue, your practitioner may want to induce labor before your placenta ages too much--an aging placenta can deprive your baby of essential nutrients and oxygen. One of the first signs that the placenta is not working well is a decrease in the amount of amniotic fluid. You may notice that the baby is less active. At that point, the baby may be better off out than in. Induction jump-starts a labor that may not have naturally begun until several days in the future; it also increases the risk of ending up with a cesarean delivery. However, babies who are not thriving anymore in utero may be much happier in your arms, even if the induction fails and the baby is delivered by cesarean.
After 42 weeks, there's a greater risk of your baby inhaling meconium--his first bowel movement--or suffering from dysmaturity syndrome. Hallmarks of dysmaturity syndrome include a thin face, overly long limbs, prominent eyes, and skin as thin as parchment paper. Babies with dysmaturity syndrome are less likely to tolerate the stress of labor. It's also possible that incubating your baby too long will result in a baby too large to fit through your pelvis--that's another situation where the risk of cesarean delivery is possibly higher.
There are many other circumstances that would prompt your provider to offer you induction. If you are full-term, for example, and have been struggling with mild preeclampsia, you may be induced to cure your preeclampsia. You also may be induced if your baby seems very small and you are full-term.
If your provider suggests inducing labor, gather all of the information you can in the time allowed. An induced labor is generally longer than a natural labor. The contractions are as strong as those you'd experience in natural labor, but there may be no gradual increase in their intensity. If prolonging your pregnancy carries a significant health risk for you or your baby, however, an induced vaginal delivery is generally considered better for both you and the baby than a cesarean delivery.