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Induction of Labour


A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks from conception, or at least, that is what we have come to expect as standard. Nature does not always play by the rules, and sometimes pregnancy lasts a bit longer.

The growing baby gets all the nourishment it needs via the placenta, which feeds it oxygen and nutrient rich blood from the mother.

The placenta also makes its own hormones and supports the pregnancy, not just the baby, so it is a very important organ.

It grows specifically for the pregnancy and is discarded at the end of it (the other name for placenta is “afterbirth”), and is a truly miraculous organ.

However, it is designed to work at its best until 40 weeks after conception, and after this time its function and efficiency begin to decrease.

The placenta carries oxygenated blood to the baby, along with glucose, vitamins, nutrients, and so on; basically, it makes the baby grow and keeps it alive.

If the placenta is not functioning properly, the baby’s life is at risk; even if the baby’s life is not at risk, it can be seriously undernourished by poor placental functioning.

If a pregnancy goes beyond the optimal 40 weeks, then there is an increased risk of the decreasing placental function affecting the health and wellbeing of the baby.

However, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact date of conception, although it is much easier with assisted conceptions such as IVF.

In a natural conception there can be as much as a 4 week window where conception took place. So, although we are given A Date, in reality, it is very hard to be so sure with such accuracy.

Most studies suggest between 5 and 10 percent of babies are born within 24 hours of the EDD. An EDD is just as the name says – an estimate.

Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance struck between allowing nature to do her bit and intervening when necessary.

The risks associated with overdue babies make it a very important decision as to whether or not induction is needed.


There are a variety of ways to ‘bring on’ labour, not all of them reliable. For example, it is commonly assumed that eating spicy food can induce labour, on the grounds that it may provoke diarrhoea, and as a result irritate the womb into action.

Hardly comfortable or, for that matter, medically believable! If a labour needs to be induced it is always better done so using safe, reliable methods under the supervision of a suitably qualified practitioner.

Methods Of Induction

Your midwife or doctor may do an internal examination, and at the same time just stretch the cervix a little. This is known as a ‘stretch and sweep’ and may speed up the labour if the cervix is ripe and ready.

Pessaries can be given that introduce a hormone locally to the cervix and stimulate it to start dilating.

If labour has started, but is progressing very slowly, the membrane around the baby, holding amniotic fluid, can be gently punctured. This is known as ‘breaking the waters’ and can speed up labour.

An intravenous drip with all the hormones needed to start labour can be set up.

Which method is chosen is up to your practitioner and you to discuss and decide. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Acupuncture and Induction of Labour

Acupuncture can be used to induce labour, and those practitioners who use it for this reason report a good success rate: this is not substantiated evidence, and more research is needed. However, due to its low side-effect rate, acupuncture is a very safe method to try if you are not keen to have the more usual methods. At the very least it can help you have a good nights sleep before going into labour, and help relaxation prior to all that work to come!

If you choose to try acupuncture as induction, it must be carried out by a practitioner who has experience of the technique as well as experience in managing pregnancy and labour. Your practitioner needs to be confident of spotting any warning signs, either in terms of acupuncture or early labour. If in doubt, don’t, or contact us at The Body Clinic for advice from a practitioner.