The process of giving birth is not always perfect. A large amount of the time, it is slow and laborious, or sometimes it even calls for emergency action. When labor either takes too long to come, doesn’t start on its own, or is needed to prevent an emergency, doctors will do what is called “inducing labor”. Many women have questions about labor induction- what exactly it does, if it is healthy, and certain risks. This page should answer some frequently asked questions about labor induction.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “INDUCE” LABOR?
When a baby is finally ready to be born, your reproductive organs will be signaled into performing certain actions that allow the baby to be healthily pushed out of the body. Your cervix begins to dilate, the water of the baby’s amniotic sac breaks, and the uterus begins to have contractions meant to expel the baby out of the birth canal. When the cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimeters, it is safe for the woman to push the baby out. This process can be short or very long.
Although labor is a naturally occurring process that your body would do by itself, sometimes situations call for labor to be induced. In order to induce labor, your doctor can do one of several things:
- Stripping the Membranes: In order to release prostaglandins which ripen the cervix and prepare for contractions, your doctor may insert his or her finger around your cervix, where he will then gently swipe his or her finger over the membranes that connect the amniotic sac to the uterine wall. This can induce labor but also may result in severe cramping and spotting. This may be done at an office visit.
- Rupturing the Amniotic Sac: Another way to induce labor is to have your doctor break your water if this hasn’t yet happened. Although it will be uncomfortable, it can rush your labor right along. This is done after you are admitted to the hospital.
- Ripening or Dilating the Cervix: If your cervix is not yet ready for the baby to pass through, your doctor can administer different medications to soften and stretch the cervix.
- Oxytocin: This man-made medication is used to signal contractions and begin labor. It can be administered to you through an IV through your arm, which is controlled by a pump.
- Prostaglandin Agents: This type of medication is very useful in inducing labor. It can either be inserted into the vagina or orally.
When labor is induced, the whole process of delivering the baby will happen much faster.
WHAT SITUATIONS MERIT INDUCING LABOR?
There are some situations during a pregnancy in which your doctor may decide you need to be induced. The first situation happens when your pregnancy is overdue and your cervix has not dilated. In these situations, your doctor may decide to induce labor in order to speed up the process to cause minimal pain.
The second situation that merits labor induction is when something is going wrong with the pregnancy. Sometimes there are complications that happen anytime during the pregnancy. If these problems are life-threatening to you or your baby, your doctor may decide to induce labor, even if you are not full-term. Women with high blood pressure, uterine infections, conditions like diabetes, or an abruption to the placenta oftentimes require labor to be induced.
WHO SHOULDN’T GET INDUCED?
Labor induction is not always right for every woman. Women who have a low-lying placenta should not have labor induced, as well as women who have had previous uterine surgery. If the baby is lying sideways inside your uterus, or if the umbilical cord has prematurely dropped into the vagina, labor induction is also a bad idea. Whether or not labor induction is a good idea for you depends totally on your pregnancy, your baby, and your doctor.
ARE THERE RISKS OF LABOR INDUCTION?
There are several risks that accompany labor induction, especially the earlier that the labor is induced. These risks include:
- Change in fetal heart rate.
- The umbilical cord is in front of the baby, compressing the cord.
However, most labor inductions that are performed because the labor is late or slow have few complications. As expected, emergency situations tend to have more complications, since oftentimes they are earlier on in the pregnancy.
Labor induction is a useful method of artificially inducing labor in pregnant women. However, not all women should have labor induced, due to specific circumstances. Talk to your obstetrician about labor induction and whether or not it applies to you and your pregnancy.