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How Labor Induction Meds Work

Learn what types of drugs might be used to induce labor, how they work and whether they pose any risk.
ByAshley Roman, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
May 10, 2017
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Image: Little Steps Photography

Medications used for labor induction work by either softening the cervix or by causing the uterus to contract, and in some cases, both.

Cervidil, one common type of prostaglandin, is inserted via a small pouch into the vagina next to the cervix. The labor med acts as an aid to ripen the cervix and trigger the labor process. Pitocin is another common med for inducing labor that you might hear about. This hormone is similar to a hormone your body already makes—oxytocin—and it’s given intravenously to stimulate contractions.

The primary risk of any medication used to induce labor is that it can work a little too well, causing too many contractions inside the uterus. If this occurs, baby may go into fetal distress, which ups your risk of needing a c-section. But this is pretty rare. When used properly in carefully selected patients with close surveillance, labor induction meds are almost always considered safe—for both mom and baby.

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