How Long After Being Induced Do You Give Birth? Well, That Depends

If you've been scheduled for an induction, know that your experience will be unique. No two deliveries, induced or not, are exactly alike. Here are the most common factors that can affect when you'll give birth after being induced.

In many healthy pregnancies, birth happens when it happens—whether that's before, on, or after the estimated due date or at three o'clock in the morning, during lunchtime, or any time in between. In some cases, though, the doctor may recommend scheduling an induction if waiting for labor to happen on its own poses risks to the pregnant person or the baby.

If you're facing an induction, you're probably wondering how long it takes to actually give birth after being induced. That's a good question! The truth is, there's no way to know exactly. How long induction takes varies dramatically from person to person and depends on a number of factors, starting with the induction method used.

The short answer: Being induced doesn't necessarily mean you're on the fast track—inductions can go quickly or last for hours or even days—but you're one step closer to holding that sweet baby in your arms.

Methods of Induction

There are a number of different methods your doctor can use for inducing labor, and these can greatly impact how long the induction takes. Below are some of the most popular methods of induction.

Membrane stripping

Membrane stripping is technically not considered a method of induction—rather, it is a way to help move things along at the end of your pregnancy, but the procedure often does result in labor starting. This process involves "sweeping" the membranes away from the cervix during an in-office cervical exam or in a labor and delivery room.

"Membrane sweeping has been shown to decrease the likelihood that a woman will go past her due date and require an induction of labor for post-term pregnancy," says Jackie Stone, M.D., an OB-GYN telemedicine physician with Maven, in North Port-Sarasota, Florida.

Prostaglandin medication

According to Dr. Stone, cervical ripening is a method of induction that's used when a pregnant person's cervix is not "favorable" for induction (this means it is not at all dilated, is not thinned out/effaced, and has not started softening). Cervical ripening can be achieved with medication or with a catheter (more on that below). The medication, which can be taken orally or inserted into the vagina, can help thin and soften your cervix in preparation for the induction.

Foley catheter

One way to physically dilate your cervix is to use a Foley catheter (sometimes referred to as a Foley bulb or balloon). Instead of taking medication to prepare your cervix, a catheter will be inserted into the vagina and through the cervix, then inflated with a saline solution.

As the balloon fills, it presses against your cervix, encouraging it to dilate open. Once your cervix is dilated to 3 centimeters, the Foley catheter typically falls out on its own. In some cases, this is enough to start active labor. If not, your doctor might employ another method of induction.

Amniotomy

Remember that dramatic movie scene where a pregnant person's water breaks with a huge gush? In reality, not many people actually experience that. But if your doctor breaks your water during your induction, you definitely will. An amniotomy is a method of induction that's typically used once you're in active labor to move things along.

"In an amniotomy, the patient's membranes (bag of waters) are usually ruptured using a small plastic hook, either to start labor or in addition to Pitocin," Dr. Stone says.

Pitocin drip

Pitocin is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin. As a medication, it's often used to cause uterine contractions and can be very effective in moving things along during the induction process.

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Your Birth Timeline After Being Induced

After you've been induced, "The consistency, dilation, or position of the cervix will give an estimate of how long the process will take. So, the induction process will vary depending on the condition of the cervix at the time the induction begins," says Kecia Gaither, M.D., MPH, FACOG, an OB-GYN, maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in New York City.

So, before anyone can answer the biggest question of all—how long will it take for your baby to arrive?—your doctor will need to answer these questions first.

How dilated is your cervix?

Internal exams at the end of your pregnancy may not be pleasant, but if your provider offers them as part of your prenatal care, they can give you an idea of how ready your body is for labor. If your cervix has already started to dilate before your induction begins, there's a good chance things will go faster than if you weren't dilated at all. However, note that sometimes a person's cervix that wasn't dilated at all will start dilating quickly, and other times, a cervix may stall for a while after dilating a few centimeters.

How effaced is your cervix?

How effaced (or thin) your cervix is impacts how quickly your labor may go as well. Your doctor may give you a percentage to indicate how much your cervix is "effaced" on a scale of 0% to 100%. A thin cervix is considered "ripe," which is ideal when it comes to induction.

What's your Bishop score?

Ever heard of this strange term? Your doctor uses a Bishop score to determine how ready your cervix is for labor. This assessment takes into account each of the factors listed above, as well as a few others. This score can be used to estimate how long it will take for you to give birth after being induced, and your likelihood of success, explains Dr. Stone.

"Your Bishop score includes multiple factors: cervical dilation, cervical effacement (how thinned out your cervix is), how soft your cervix is, the position of the cervix (is it closer to your bladder or closer to your tailbone), and fetal station (how low down in your pelvis is the baby). The better your Bishop score, the shorter your induction should be."

Is this your first baby?

If this is not your first rodeo, your induction will probably go much more quickly than if you were a first-time parent, says Kate Killoran, M.D., an OB-GYN with Your Doctors Online. "Your body seems to know what to do the second time. Often, your cervix is more dilated and effaced the second time. And the tissues and ligaments have been stretched from the first time so it's easier to accommodate another birth."

When Labor Stalls

A frustrating but important fact to keep in mind: Not every induction ends in a vaginal delivery. Just like with a pregnancy that goes into labor without intervention, induced labor can end up requiring a C-section.

"Induction carries risks, one of the most common being that the induction will not 'work,' ending in a Cesarean rather than a vaginal birth," says Cara Terreri, a doula and childbirth educator at Simple Support Birth. When you are induced, your body is put into labor with medications or physical interventions, possibly before your body and your baby are ready. This can lead to stalled labor, followed by more interventions to keep labor going, and even a possible Cesarean section.

However, while people often worry that inductions increase the risk of having a C-section, that's not typically the case. In fact, a large 2018 study that compared the C-section rate of pregnant people who were induced at around 39 weeks gestation with those who were allowed to go into labor naturally found the opposite to be true. Fewer people in the induction group needed a surgical delivery—18.6% compared with 22.2%. That is to that that while nothing is guaranteed, if a vaginal birth is on your wish list, you don't have to give up hope in the face of an induction.

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