How Long Does a Labor Induction Take?
You may have recently discovered that you’re a candidate for induction. There are various reasons for inductions to be recommended or required; everything from medical conditions like Preeclampsia and Gestational Diabetes, to being overdue (aka “post-dates”), to concerns about your baby and/or placenta in utero. Whatever the circumstances, having the prospect of an induction looming can be daunting. There are so many things to think about that you hadn’t had to consider before. Let’s face it: This probably wasn’t the outcome you’d expected when you first found out you were pregnant and began to imagine what labor and childbirth would be like.
But you’re not alone. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 27% of pregnant people were induced in 2018 (Martin et al. 2019), i.e., more than 1 in 4 pregnancies. So what are your greatest concerns about induction? Is it that you’re afraid it will take days of being in labor to birth your baby vs. hours? Is it that you’re afraid an induction will lead to a “cascade of interventions” up to and including a C-section? Is it that you’re afraid an induction may be unsafe for you or your baby?
Like all things, knowledge is power. Understanding a) the evidence-based data supporting (or not supporting) the necessity for an induction based on your specific factors and b) the ins and outs of the process and how to best prepare for it, will be invaluable in allaying your fears and feeling confident and empowered to have a positive birthing experience regardless of this unanticipated turn of events.
One of the questions that is most commonly asked is how long will an induction take in comparison to going into labor spontaneously? While there is no way to know how long spontaneous labor would have ended up taking vs. the length of an induction, as a general rule, inductions take longer depending upon your readiness for labor (for more information about readiness and the Bishop Score, click here to read my blog titled Is My Body Ready for an Induction?).
Assuming for example that you are facing a medical necessity that requires an induction before 39 weeks, e.g., Preeclampsia, the likelihood of your body being ready for spontaneous labor on its own is low. This in turn can lead to a lengthy induction while your cervix is artificially induced to prematurely efface and open through the use of cervical ripening drugs such as Cytotec or Cervidil, and/or a foley balloon. What normally happens is that your induction will be scheduled to happen later in the evening so that you can sleep the first night at the hospital while the first dose of cervical softener is administered. Depending on how quickly it takes effect, you may not begin to feel any sensations of labor until many hours later. Although the bad news is that you’re stuck at the hospital all this time, oftentimes during the first 12+ hours of your hospital stay you’re not feeling any effects of labor yet so technically you’re not in labor, if that makes you feel any better.
It’s a good idea in these instances to plan ahead and bring lots of things along with you for distraction, e.g., an iPad loaded with bingeable shows, that paperback you haven’t gotten around to reading, crosswords, etc. If you really get creative, you can plan this mandated respite like a spa retreat and really take advantage of the downtime, focusing on doing nothing but relaxing and indulging yourself with activities that bring you joy.