When Is It Safe to Induce Labor?

Dr. Mystie Johnson, MD, is an OB/GYN and chief medical officer at Banner Thunderbird Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor. 

Q: I'm pregnant and due to give birth in a few weeks. When and for what reasons might my doctor consider inducing labor?

A: Most expectant mothers will naturally go into labor on or around their due dates. However, a physician will consider inducing labor whenever there is a medical concern that puts a pregnant woman or developing baby at risk. These conditions might include pregnancy-related hypertension (known as preeclampsia), poorly controlled diabetes, or any health problem that causes a severe threat to mother or child.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recently recommended that elective inductions, those situations where labor is induced without a specific medical reason, should only occur after 39 weeks of pregnancy because the risk for complications associated with labor and delivery decreases at that point. However, the current trend is to induce labor after 39 weeks only when the cervix is ripe, or ready for childbirth, as measured by a rating called a Bishop’s Score. For example, a woman having her first child would need a Bishop’s Score of 8 or higher to be considered ripe, and a woman in her second pregnancy would need at least a 6.

Previously, elective inductions were performed at any point after reaching 39 weeks, but new findings in the medical community indicate there is potential for reducing the likelihood of cesarean sections, vacuum or forceps delivery, postpartum hemorrhage and other complications by waiting to induce labor until the cervix is ready. Based on this information and to promote optimal outcomes for mother and baby, Banner Health and the physicians affiliated with the health care system have adopted a practice to perform elective inductions after 39 weeks only if the cervix is ripe.

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