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Drugs That Induce Labor

By Maria Ledbetter ; Updated June 13, 2017

The female body is designed to carry a pregnancy for 40 weeks, but sometimes it may need a little boost to get labor started. With a variety of methods available, labor-inducing drugs such as pitocin and misoprostol are the main choice for physicians. These drugs allow medical staff to control the intensity and rate of labor, while allowing the expectant mother to birth vaginally.


Pitocin is the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin. This drug must be administered by nasal spray or injection, because the stomach and intestines destroy the hormone before it can be absorbed. Pitocin is used to stimulate uterine contractions, which will cause the woman to go into labor. It is also used to help increase contractions when labor fails to progress. Pitocin can decrease blood pressure, cause stronger contractions (when compared to non-pitocin contractions) and can increase the chance of a cesarean section. For someone with a past cesarean section who would like to attempt a vaginal birth after delivery (VBAC), it is important to discuss the risks of using this labor-inducing drug. The contractions associated with pitocin can cause hemorrhaging or uterine rupture.


Misoprostol is a labor-inducing drug that is administered vaginally in order to ripen the cervix and to cause uterine contractions. This drug is also known as Cytotec and is a less-expensive option when compared to dinoprostone. According to a study conducted in 1999 by Dr. Peter Danielian from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, misoprostol proved to be more effective than pitocin and dinoprostone. In those trials, misoprostol allowed women to give birth within 24 hours of placement. This medication is not recommended for someone who has had a cesarean section, as a severe side effect, such as uterine rupture, could occur.


Dinoprostone, also known by the trade name Cevidil, is a prostaglandin E2 used to induce labor by softening the cervix and causing uterine contractions. This drug is a gel that is inserted vaginally by a health professional. If the initial goal of the drug has not be achieved within six hours, a repeat dose can be administered. This medication can cause several side effects, including fever, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting and upset stomach. It can also cause flushing of the skin. Like misoprostol, this drug is not recommended for someone who has had a cesarean section, because uterine rupture could occur.

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