When you initiate a labor induction you might wonder how long until your baby is born? This might be the first thing that pregnant women think about, since many birth stories talk about labor taking a long time, so let’s talk about how long after your induction process starts your baby will be born at the end of pregnancy.
How Long Does Induced Labor Take?
You can also listen to my podcast on the length of labor while you peruse this article:
The length of the induction depends on:
- How soft your cervix is
- How low & engaged the baby is in your pelvis
- How readily your body reacts to the medication
But, all of those are pretty complicated — so, let’s explain each of them a bit more.
But before we get going — how does someone with a site called Pulling Curls know so much about inductions?
First off, hello! I’m Hilary — many people know me as The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind this website Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have helped thousands of families start an induction and I’ve seen how long it would take, so I understand how confusing this is.
First off, you need to know WHY you are getting induced (you’d be surprised by how many people come in and have no idea why their doctor has ordered an induction of labor).
Often an induction of labor is started for medical reasons. Your health care provider would think that your baby is going to do better outside than in your womb. As your due date approaches, this decision can come up more frequently for pregnant people. Also, some people chose to have an induction (that is called an elective induction). We’ll talk more about the reasons going forward, but that truly is your first step.
And yes — there is a LOT to know about labor, which is why I 100% recommend this.
How Long Will Your Induction Take?
Textbook Case of Labor
Before we dig too deep into this, let’s talk about what a “textbook case” of labor would look like. On average, women progress at 1 cm/hour until they reach 10 cm. At which point the average pushing time for your first baby is 2 hours.
So, if you’re 3 cm, the textbook case would be 7 hours plus pushing time.
However, most babies didn’t read the textbook, so that’s just an average – meaning your timeframe could be much more or much less.
Also, who is to really say when labor starts? It is easier to say when you’re in the hospital and we start medication, but for most providers active labor is when labor starts. That means your cervix is actively dilating due to uterine contractions.
With “natural labor” it’s more unclear, since labor kind of sneaks up on you…. You go from feeling crummy, to feeling crampy, and it just progresses from there. It’s really hard to say when labour starts in that scenario.
Even with an induction of labor, we don’t normally count those early labor hours where you contract now and then, but your cervix isn’t changing much and the baby isn’t engaged into the birth canal much.
Remember that in both induced labor or spontaneous labor there are 4 stages of labor, no matter if it’s your first pregnancy, or another one.
The first stage of labor is more often called early labor or the latent phase of labor. This is often the most variable amount of time depending on when your uterus really kicks into gear.
The second stage of labor would be “active” labor – and is most often defined to start at 6 cm of cervical dilation. At this point your release of oxytocin is causing frequent, productive contractions that are opening the cervix.
The third stage of labor is the pushing phase, and as I said above averages about 2 hours for first time moms, and less in subsequent pregnancies. This stage ends with baby’s birth.
The fourth stage is most often the shortest, and it ends with the delivery of the placenta.
So, as you can see, from the onset of labor (which is difficult to pinpoint) there is a whole lot that your body is going through to keep you and baby safe during delivery.
Are you looking for more information on labor, the stages, and what to expect as you progress through it, a prenatal class really explains the whole thing (rather than getting snippets in articles like this).
Reasons for an Induction
There are lots of reasons for an induction. Some would require an earlier induction of labor than others.
An elective induction is when someone makes the CHOICE to be induced (it wasn’t for medical reasons). Most often, these don’t happen until at least 39 weeks and that choice can be made for a variety of reasons. As long as you and your provider believe that reason to be valid (past 39 weeks) it is normally fine.
However, there are a lot of medical reasons that someone would need to be induced. A common reason is high blood pressure, or other pregnancy complications that put baby’s health (or mom’s health) at risk if baby were to stay in. They have to decide if the baby’s gestational age or medical problems, would be better taken care of outside the womb. Other health problems could be gestational diabetes or if the baby isn’t growing well, or if there isn’t enough fluid around the baby that could cause health problems.
In these cases, where the induction is happening much earlier than the due date, it is likely to take longer (although not always). I have a whole post on 37 week inductions you might find helpful if you’re being induced early.
However, an induction can also be indicated if you are “post dates” (meaning you’re still pregnant as you near 42 weeks). Studies have shown the placenta starts to wear out and it is less and less safe for baby to stay inside.
So many people think that this is entirely based on how many weeks you are, but in reality it’s really based on what I said above, how soft & ready your cervix is, where baby’s is in your pelvis and how well your body reacts to the induction.
Methods of Induction
There are several ways that they might induce you, and these can take more or less time.
The most commonly done one is membrane stripping. Although not “officially” an induction method a membrane sweep is where they take a gloved finger and put it between your cervix and the bag of waters. This is a very low-risk way to try to put your body into labor. It may or may not work, but it does stir up hormones, as well as breaking any bond between your cervix and the amniotic sac.
With all induction methods, there do come possible risks, so be sure to talk to your doctor about the method they are recommending and any risks involved. The main benefit would obviously be getting the baby OUT!
Cervical Ripening Agents:
There are 3 of these. Misoprostil (also called Cytotec), Cervidil, and Prostin gel. These all have postaglandins or, hormones that help to soften your cervix and start contractions. I have a whole post on how Cytotec is given for an induction.
Most of often they are followed by….
This is the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin. That hormone causes labor contractions. Because this does have more risks than any of the other above methods, it does require expectant management. That means the nurse will be monitoring your vital signs, your contractions and the baby’s heart rate very frequently to make sure everything is safe.
There is always a risk that your uterus will contract too much requiring a cesarean section, so be sure to talk to your provider about it, and how they will use it.
Most often pitocin is used easily and effectively, leading to a vaginal birth, but there is always the risk of complications.
So, just like natural labor – it is our plan to use these methods to help your cervix open about 1 cm/hour once you’re in active labor.
So, you might wonder….
Why We can’t just Give you More Medication to Speed Up Labor?
With these medications, your health care provider is well aware that if we give you too much it can cause uterine rupture (where your uterus contracts so hard its walls break apart). This is EXTREMELY rare, but it is why we have to watch how much medication we give you. We also watch baby’s heart rate, because too many contractions can be bad for baby as well. The American College of Obstetricians has some very specific guidelines that providers must follow with these interventions.
Often moms don’t want contractions too close together, it makes difficult to find pain relief as well. We definitely want a minute between contractions for mom, baby and uterus to catch their breath.
Using Pitocin safely is so important, so we can aim for a vaginal delivery.
In fact, your doctor may recommend stopping pitocin for a bit to give your body a break (and often people’s body will continue in labor if they’re past about 6 cm without more IV pitocin).
What are some natural ways to go into labor?
While I would definitely talk with a healthcare professional before you attempt anything like nipple stimulation. Most things really just won’t start labor until your body is ready.
I have a whole post on castor oil (sometimes called midwive’s brew) and the pro’s con’s (but the cliff notes version is that I am not a fan). But evidence doesn’t show that things like spicy foods do anything to start labor.
I also have a quick little guide on how to go into labor you might be interested in.
There are a few things that may slow down labor that it might be good to talk about:
Things That May Slow Down Labor
There are a few things that may slow down labor, or make it longer before you’re giving birth….
Your Bishop Score (and the things it means)
While the “textbook case” seems to act like dilation is the only thing that matters, there is a lot more to consider about your vaginal exam (which is why you shouldn’t always refuse them).
The bishop score is a variety of things that your provider can learn from a vaginal exam – including:
- Cervical dilation (how open your cervix is)
- Cervical Effacement (how thin your cervix is)
- Baby’s station (how high or low the baby is in your pelvis)
- Cervical Consistancy (how firm or soft your cervix feels)
We combine these numbers into a score that shows how ready your cervix is to have a baby. A low number might mean it would be better to postpone an induction (but not in all cases) because it is likely going to take a while to get it ready to have a baby.
This is the part where we talk about how ready your cervix is (we’re looking for a soft cervix that is likely open a bit). AND we want the baby engaged in the pelvis, which is the baby’s station (lower is usually better for an induction).
It’s Your First Vaginal Delivery
First time mothers most often have a longer labor than in subsequent pregnancies. Although, not always.
Meaning, the vaginal wall has already been stretched and is ready for baby to come through quickly.
The most significant change that moms who’ve already had babies have is the last few centimeters generally take less time, and pushing time, most often, is less.
You Amniotic Sac is Intact
Amniotic fluid cushions the baby and the umbilical cord in the uterus. When the bag of waters is intact, it can make labor take a bit longer (but is often also the pain is more manageable).
But, on the other side the risk of infection can be increased once your water is broken.
About 15% of people have their bag of waters break spontaneously before they go into labor. So, most people don’t experience that.
Once your water breaks, labor is generally more painful — but your healthcare provider may believe it speeds up labor (the studies may not back that up and most don’t recommend having it broken until you’re more dilated, or well into the second stage of labor).
FYI they can break your water with a long crochet hook (most often people need to have their water broken). This is called the artificial rupture of membranes (AROM).
BTW, if you’re not interested in them breaking your water, I run through talking with your provider about that scenario in here. Your doctor may or may not discuss it with you before doing it, so you may have to be proactive during your labor and delivery cervical exams by a doctor or midwife (most nurse can’t AROM unless it’s an emergency).
How Far Along your Are In Your Pregnancy?
While it does depend on how many weeks of pregnancy you have gone through – it really depends more on the bishops score that I mentioned above. Some people’s cervix is VERY ready at 37 weeks (although they still wouldn’t induce you unless you had medical conditions indicating you should get baby out that early). And sometimes people’s cervix is still NOT ready at 40 weeks (but on AVERAGE your cervix does open/soften the further along in your pregnancy you are).
Remember your due date is taking a LOT of averages into consideration, and your induction is just about you & your body/cervix/uterus/pelvis.
Those are the main things, but sometimes something as simple as a full bladder can become an issue. Because your bladder is neighbors with your uterus, if it is full it can prevent baby from progressing into the birth canal. Your nurse may encourage you to urinate, or in extreme circumstances we might use a Foley catheter to relieve your bladder so baby can come down.
So, basically the answer is “it depends”– but hopefully that gave you an idea of how long til’ you had your baby. Whatever way you are being induced, make sure that the health of your baby is #1 and that the healthcare providers are monitoring you and baby well to make sure things are progressing safely!
What did the Arrive Trial Show About Inductions
The ARRIVE trial is a study that studied 39 week elective inductions vs expectant management of patients (just waiting and watching vs inducing them for no reason). It showed us a few things (keep in mind this study is super controversial in the OB community, so just be aware of that):
- The induced patients, vs those not induced did not rank their labor any more painful — many people wonder if induced labor is more painful, and this study showed that it is not (keep in mind, it’s just a study, but that is what it showed)
- The length of an induction was longer at 39 weeks, but the outcomes were actually better (meaning, less cesareans).
- No difference in fetal outcomes in those induced at 39 weeks vs those who waited.
I actually have a whole bonus video in here on this video where I explain more about this study and what it means for you — the biggest thing is having an idea of how long it is going to take before you go in, based on all the factors we have talked about. Long inductions can feel torturous, but some people like the predictability of them. So, it is important that you make the right choice for you. I think the data from the Arrive trial is good for patients to be aware of (which is why I made that video in my class).
What now? It’s time to take a prenatal class. Studies show taking a prenatal class actually decreases your chance of a cesarean section. In just a few hours you can be prepared for your birth in here. In fact, I guarantee you’ll like it!
If you’re not quite sure you’re ready for the full class, check out my free beginning prenatal class. It is free and can start your journey towards birth confidence! BUT if you’re close enough to think about an induction, that baby will be here SOON — so taking a full class ASAP is your best bet!