What Is Labor Induction And How Does It Work
Your doctor may recommend labor induction for many reasons. One of which is trouble during late stages of pregnancy. While many pregnant women go into labor naturally, some women never experience spontaneous labor. Other pregnant women need to have labor induced to ensure their health or the health of their baby. Induction of labor may also be selected for convenience in certain cases. Several methods of labor induction can help start the birth process, including at-home techniques. Keep reading to learn more about labor induction and how it works.
What Happens During Labor Induction
In This Article:
- When Do You Need Labor Induction?
- Can You Choose To Induce Labor?
- Types of Methods for Inducing Labor
- Labor Induction For Dilated Cervix
- Understanding the Risks of Labor Induction
- Conditions Where Labor Induction Should Not Happen
- Can You Induce Labor At Home?
When Do You Need Labor Induction?
Inducing labor may be recommended in certain cases to protect the mother or baby’s health. Your doctor will weigh many factors to decide if you need to be induced.
Remember, your baby’s health isn’t the only important aspect of giving birth. Your health during pregnancy should also be of utmost importance.
When do you need labor induction? Some of the more common reasons to induce labor include:
- You went past your due date by almost two weeks and contractions haven’t started;
- Your water broke (also known as rupture of membranes) but contractions haven’t started;
- The baby’s weight is estimated to be under 10 percent of normal for their stage of development
- You’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes
- You have high blood pressure (including preeclampsia)
- There’s too little amniotic fluid (also known as oligohydramnios)
- You have a uterine infection (also known as chorioamnionitis)
- Your placenta detached from the wall of the uterus (also known as a placental abruption)
- You face other medical issues such as obesity or kidney disease
Can You Choose To Induce Labor?
Labor usually gets induced for medical reasons. You may decide (with your doctor’s agreement) to induce labor even if you don’t have a medical reason to do so. Elective labor induction may be chosen if the expectant mother lives far from a hospital. Having a history of quick deliveries may also be a reason for choosing to induce. Your child’s gestational age should be over 39 weeks before scheduling an elective induction.
Methods for Inducing Labor
Doctors use several medical methods to induce labor. Cervical ripening is sometimes necessary before induction of labor can occur. This can be the case if your cervix has not begun to soften, thin out (efface), or open up (dilate). Your health care professional can “ripen” your cervix using one or more techniques:
- With medication. Medical professionals commonly use synthetic prostaglandins to prepare the cervix for labor. Your doctor or midwife administers such medications at the hospital or birthing center. Your doctor will give you an oral (Misoprostol) or vaginal suppository for this medicine. Some women find synthetic prostaglandins enough to bring on contractions and labor.
- Through the use of a cervical ripening balloon or Foley catheter. Some medical professionals use mechanical methods to ripen the cervix. Such methods include cervical ripening balloons and Foley catheters. The doctor places a small tube with one or two uninflated balloons inside your cervix. The balloons will then be filled with water. The pressure from the inflated balloons on your cervix encourages prostaglandin production. Once your cervix starts dilating, the balloon and tube get removed.
- By “sweeping” your membranes. If you have a slightly dilated cervix but you’re not ready for labor yet, then this method can be effective. Your doctor or midwife uses a finger to reach through your cervix. They will then “sweep” their finger to separate the amniotic sac from the uterus. A membrane sweep induces your body to produce prostaglandins to ripen your cervix.
Labor Induction For Dilated Cervix
What if your cervix is already thinned or dilated? Your doctor will attempt to start uterine contractions in one of two ways:
- By rupturing your membranes. Membrane rupture (commonly known as having your water break) is part of every labor. For some women, having their membranes ruptured by their doctor can be enough to induce labor. Your doctor inserts a small instrument into your cervix to make an opening in your amniotic sac. The baby’s heart rate is monitored during and after this procedure to prevent fetal distress.
- By administering a synthetic form of oxytocin known as Pitocin. Oxytocin, a hormone naturally produced by the body during spontaneous labor, causes uterine contractions. Your doctor may choose to administer the synthetic form of oxytocin (known as Pitocin). Pitocin can help begin or strengthen your contractions. You’ll be given the Pitocin through an IV pump in the hospital. The amount of Pitocin you receive can be adjusted by your doctor as your labor progresses.
Understanding the Risks of Labor Induction
Labor induction is generally very safe, but inducing labor comes with some risks as well, including:
- Failed induction. About three-quarters of all first-time mothers who underwent labor induction have a successful vaginal birth. The remaining 25 percent, however, may end up needing a cesarean delivery.
- Infection. Certain labor induction techniques like membrane rupturing increase the chance of infection. Prolonged membrane rapture puts both the mother and the baby at risk of infection.
- Low fetal heart rate. Both Pitocin and synthetic prostaglandins cause contractions to become stronger or longer. In turn, this can lower the baby’s oxygen supply and reduce her heart rate.
- Increased bleeding following delivery. Induction of labor increases the chances the uterine muscles won’t contract after birth. This can lead to potentially serious bleeding.
- Uterine rupture. While uncommon, uterine rupture is a serious complication of inducing labor. It involves the uterus tearing along the scar of a prior C-section or other uterine surgery. Women who have not had prior uterine surgeries can also experience a uterine rupture. You will need an emergency cesarean delivery in this case. The uterus may also be removed.
Conditions Where Labor Induction Should Not Happen
Certain conditions increase the risks associated with labor induction. Your doctor would recommend against inducing labor if you had a C-section with previous births. Active genital herpes will also cause your doctor to recommend against inducing labor. In addition, induction of labor may be too risky if:
- the placenta is covering the cervix
- you have a breech baby
- the umbilical cord slipped into the vagina before birthday
Can You Induce Labor At Home?
Several at-home techniques may help induce labor. You should know that none of these methods have been shown to be safe and effective consistently. Seek your doctor’s guidance before trying any of these:
- Nipple stimulation. Nipple stimulation causes your body to release oxytocin. This natural oxytocin can help begin labor. However, it’s unclear exactly how effective nipple stimulation is. It is also possible to overstimulate the uterus and potentially stress your body. Nipple stimulation should only be done with a doctor or midwife’s supervision.
- Sexual intercourse. Studies are mixed on whether sex can promote labor. Semen does contain natural prostaglandins to help ready the cervix for labor. On the other hand, orgasming may be able to bring on contractions.
- Certain herbs. Some believe that natural herbs can help induce labor. These herbs include red raspberry leaf, comfrey root, and primrose oil. Take note, however, that no conclusive studies have been released regarding the effectiveness of these remedies. Taking herbs to start labor can be risky due to uterine overstimulation.
- Castor oil. Some believe that stimulating the bowels can help cause contractions. A potent laxative, castor oil, effectively stimulates the digestive tract. However, there’s no clear proof that castor oil can help induce labor. What’s more, the side effects of taking castor oil can be unpleasant.
If you want to naturally induce labor at home, watch this video from Lisa Malambri:
If your doctor does decide to induce your labor, you don’t have to worry too much. Most induced labors lead to successful vaginal births. Note that a successful vaginal delivery using labor induction methods rarely affects future pregnancies. If your induced labor does fail, you’ll need a C-section. If this happens, your doctor may decide that any future pregnancies will need a C-section delivery as well.
Have you experienced induced labor with your previous births? Share your experience with us here!