The benefits and risks of induced labor
Sometimes, your doctor will recommend inducing labor so that you give birth to the baby at a particular time rather than waiting for labor to occur on its own. Elective induced labor is currently on the rise, as it offers the convenience of planning the birth rather than having it happen at an unexpected time. Under certain conditions, though, induced labor is performed for medical reasons or as an emergency measure, usually because conditions have arisen that make leaving the baby in the womb any longer potentially dangerous.
How Is Labor Induced?
There are two main methods your doctor may use to induce labor: administering medications, or rupturing the amniotic membranes.
The two drugs your doctor may use to induce labor are prostaglandin and oxytocin. Both of these are naturally occurring hormones that play a role in starting labor. If prostaglandin is chosen, your doctor will place suppositories into your vagina in the evening, and they will usually induce labor by morning. Oxytocin, particularly in its branded forms of Pitocin and Syntocinon, is administered intravenously at low doses to try to jump-start your labor contractions.
Alternatively, you may undergo a procedure known as an amniotomy, a process which may be referred to as artificial rupture of the membranes (AROM). Essentially, this procedure causes your water to break, which makes the baby's head move down into the cervical region into the birth canal. The pressure of the baby's head and the natural release of prostaglandin both help to speed up contractions.
As an alternative to these methods, you can also consider inducing labor naturally.
When Is Labor Induced?
Most doctors recommend inducing labor only if it is medically necessary. The most common situations in which labor should be induced include:
- If you have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or another serious pregnancy complication
- If your water has broken but you still have not given birth within 24 to 48 hours
- If you have a uterine infection
- If oxygen and nutrient levels inside the placenta are decreasing
- If you are 42 weeks pregnant or more
You need to weigh the potential drawbacks of inducing labor against the benefits, if it is elective. The drugs your doctor gives you might not work; on the other hand, oxytocin is sometimes known to bring on labor contractions so quickly and powerfully that it can be a very unpleasant experience. An amniotomy procedure carries a slight risk of infection or causing the baby or umbilical cord to shift into a difficult position. If induced labor leads to complications, you will likely undergo a cesarean section. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that every day your baby spends in utero improves its chances of a healthy start to life, so it may be better to wait those few extra days until labor begins on its own.