In most healthy pregnancies, birth happens when it happens, whether that's at three o'clock in the morning, during lunchtime, or any time in between. In some cases though, your doctor may decide to intervene and schedule you for an induction. But that doesn't necessarily mean you're on the fast track to holding that sweet baby in your arms; inductions can last for hours, and in some cases, even days. So if you're scheduled for an induction, be sure you head to the hospital with plenty of things to keep you busy as the hours pass.
Of course, you're probably wondering, how long after being induced do you give birth? That's a good question! The truth is, there's no way to know exactly; it depends on a bunch of factors that all work together to answer the question of how long does an induction take, starting with the method by which your doctor chooses for you.
Methods of Induction
There are a number of different methods your doctor can use for inducing labor, and these can greatly impact the answer to how long does an induction take. Below, we've listed some of the most popular methods of induction.
Technically not considered a method of induction, but rather a way to possibly help things along at the end of your pregnancy, membrane stripping involves "sweeping" the membranes away from the cervix during an in-office cervical exam. "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 Dr. Jackie Stone, an OBGYN with Maven.
According to Stone, cervical ripening is one method of induction that's used when a woman's cervix is not "favorable" for induction (is not at all dilated, is not thinned out/effaced, and has not started softening). This can be done either as a medication or as a catheter (more on that below). This medication, which can be taken orally or inserted into the vagina, can help thin and soften your cervix in preparation for the induction.
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One way to physically dilate your cervix is to use a Foley catheter. Instead of taking medication to prepare your cervix, a catheter will be inserted, then inflated with a saline solution. The catheter presses against your cervix, encouraging it to dilate open. Once your cervix is dilated to 3 centimeters, the Foley catheter falls out on its own. In some cases, this is enough to start active labor. If not, your doctor might resort to a different method of induction.
That dramatic movie scene where a pregnant woman's water breaks with a huge gush? In reality, not many women 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 water) are usually ruptured using a small plastic hook, either to start labor or in addition to pitocin," Dr. Stone asserts.
Pitocin is a synthetic form of a drug that is normally produced by the maternal brain called Oxytocin. It's often used to cause uterine contractions, and can be very effective in moving things along during the induction process.
Your Birth Timeline After Being Induced
After you've been induced, Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, says, "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."
So before anyone can answer the biggest question of all AKA how long will it take for your baby to arrive, your doctor will need to answer these questions first:
How dilated is your cervix?
Those weekly internal exams at the end of your pregnancy may not be pleasant, but they give your doctor 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.
How effaced is your cervix?
The same is true for how thin your cervix is. Your doctor may give you a percentage to indicate how much your cervix is "effaced" on a scale of 0–100 percent. 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. It takes into account each of the factors listed above, as well as a few others. This score can determine how long it takes for you to give birth after being induced, and your likelihood of success, says 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 mom. Dr. Kate Killoran of Your Doctors Online says, "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.
"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, Doula and Childbirth Educator at Simple Support Birth. When you are induced, your body is artificially forced into labor, likely before you and your baby are ready. This can lead to a stalled labor, more interventions to speed up your labor, and then a possible cesarean section.