Information for the public
Labour is a natural process that usually starts on its own. But sometimes it needs to be started artificially; this is called 'induced labour'. Most commonly, labour is induced because the baby is overdue, or because there are risks to the mother's or baby's health. Induced labour is usually more painful than spontaneous labour, and epidural analgesia and assisted delivery are more likely to be needed.
Various methods are used to encourage the cervix to dilate, and so to induce labour. These include medicines known as prostaglandins (in vaginal gels or tablets), an infusion of a drug called oxytocin, surgical methods and mechanical methods (such as single balloon catheters). Sometimes saline solution is put into the space around the baby in the womb at the same time as a catheter is put in place.
NICE has looked at using a double balloon catheter as another treatment option.
NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) and NICE's information for the public about induction of labour may be a good place to find out more.