Mother and Baby

What being induced is really like

Section: Labour & Birth
What being induced is really like

An induced labour is one that is started artificially, and is a lot more common than you might think. Around one in five births in the UK are induced but many women have no idea what to expect when they get to the hospital. Here’s exactly what being induced is really like:

What is an induction?

You may be offered an induction – the term given to starting labour artificially – for a number of reasons, including going past your due date, your waters breaking before your contractions start or if there are any concerns about your health or the size or health of your baby. You can of course choose not to be induced, but if your pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks, you should be offered increased monitoring to check your baby’s well being.

When you arrive at the hospital to be induced, you will be given a bed and a midwife will carry out some observations, including listening to your baby’s heartbeat, feeling your bump, taking your blood pressure and testing your urine, before performing a vaginal examination to assess the condition of your cervix.

Hayley Seale, lead midwife at The Portland Hospital in London, says: “You will usually be given a Prostin pessary or a gel, which is used to ripen your cervix and allow it to dilate. Approximately six hours later, you will have another vaginal examination to assess if the Prostin has worked.

“If you go into labour from the pessary or from your waters being broken, there is no reason you can’t give birth as you planned."

“If so and it’s possible to break your waters, this would be done, however every woman is different and you could start contracting from the gel alone or require more than one dose. If breaking your waters does not stimulate contractions, or if the contractions are not strong enough to fully dilate the cervix, you will be given a drip to stimulate more effective contractions.”

The drip given during an induction contains Syntocinon – an artificial version of the ‘happy hormone’ oxytocin.  

Am I more likely to need a c-section if I’m induced?

If your cervix does not respond to the hormone drip or your baby shows any signs of distress, it may be necessary for you to have an emergency caesarean section. But Hayley says there is no evidence that women who are induced after 39 weeks of pregnancy are at any more risk of having a c-section than someone in natural labour.

How long will it take?

Many women mistakenly believe the date of their induction will be the day they meet their baby. But being induced can take a long time and it may be two or three days before labour gets properly started.

The pessary stage can often take up to 24 hours before a woman is either given a drip or has her waters broken.

Midwife Evony Lynch, who is based in West Cornwall, says: “The process can be quite a long one, especially if it is your first baby. Bring all the stuff you need to make that space your own.

“You might want to bring your birth ball, your TENS machine, hypnobirthing CDs and some relaxing music to listen to. If you can concentrate, use the time to watch a film or read a book.

“Bring lots of snacks and anything that makes you feel more comfortable as there can be a lot of waiting around.”

Will labour hurt more if I am induced?

Although the dose of Syntocinon is given gradually, the contractions you will feel during an induction are likely to be stronger and more intense than if you had gone into labour naturally.

“If it is your first baby, it can be quite hard-going,” says Evony. “Your body is having contractions before it is ready so you don’t have your own endorphins to help you deal with the pain.

“If you are finding your contractions too strong and painful, don’t be frightened to ask for an epidural. You will have stronger contractions in a shorter space of time so an epidural might help you to cope better.”

Will I have any control over my birth plan?

One of the big fears for women facing an induction is that they won’t have any control over their birth experience.

But Evony says: “If you go into labour from the pessary or from your waters being broken, there is no reason you can’t give birth as you planned. If you are given a drip, you will be more restricted as you will have a cannula in your hand but this doesn’t mean you can’t move around. You can still kneel or sit on a birth ball.

“If you go into labour from the pessary or from your waters being broken, there is no reason you can’t give birth as you planned."

“Even with an epidural, you should be able to move onto your side so you are not lying on your back, which is a difficult position to give birth in. You can make the experience seem more natural by turning the lights down low. You can even ask for the volume of the monitoring equipment to be turned down so it isn’t so intrusive.

“If you go into labour from the pessary or from your waters being broken, there is no reason you can’t give birth as you planned. If everything goes well and you have a normal vaginal birth, you can still decide things like who cuts the cord and whether you pick up your baby yourself.”


Catherine Ball is a mum-of-four and freelance journalist who specialises in parenting and health. As well as writing regularly for Mother & Baby since 2015, her work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Sunday Mirror, the Independent, Top Sante, Closer Online, Metro and She has worked as a journalist for more than 18 years, including more than a decade working as a news reporter. 

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