Labor induction has become a common practice in the birth world. Labor induction is when your healthcare providers induce labor by using drugs to stimulate uterine contractions during pregnancy before actual labor begins on its own.
In a pregnancy that is progressing normally, your body and your baby’s body secrete the hormone oxytocin, triggering labor. This starts contractions and preps your cervix by thinning and softening it. Induction is an attempt to jump-start this process.
The medical reasons for inducing include preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, an overdue baby, and health risks to your baby. If your health or that of your baby will be at risk if the pregnancy continues, inducing labor or having a cesarean may be the best option for you and your baby.
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Reasons Why Labor Induction May Be Recommended
1. You’re overdue
If there’s no sign of action from your uterus, your practitioner may induce you around 42 weeks.
2. Your membranes ruptured
If your water has broken and contractions have not started within 24 hours, your healthcare provider may induce.
3. Your baby isn’t thriving
If tests suggest your baby is mature enough to deliver, your healthcare provider may opt for induction.
4. You might not make it to the hospital
You may be induced if you live far from where you’re delivering or have had a previous short labor because there’s concern that you might not make it to the hospital or birthing center on time. Known as an elective induction, it should be scheduled at the place where you plan to deliver no earlier than 39 weeks.
It’s tempting to induce labor to accommodate a busy schedule or to ensure family members are present for the birth. And sometimes you get misleading information that can complicate matters. For example, you may be told that your baby is “too big” and encouraged to induce — or risk a c-section. Most of the time, ultrasound and other tests are not accurate in predicting fetal weight. Your chance of having a c-section because you’re inducing before your body is ready is about the same as having a c-section because your baby truly is too big.
To start contractions, an artificial form of oxytocin, which is the hormone that triggers labor, usually Psilocin, is administered intravenously. If you’re already showing some signs of early labor, induction is most effective because your body is more ready to go.
Rupturing the amniotic sac, or “breaking the water,” is another way to induce labor. The doctor uses a sterile plastic hook to puncture the sac. The amniotic fluid it releases is rich in prostaglandins, which increase the strength and frequency of contractions. But if labor doesn’t begin within several hours of this procedure, there’s an increased risk of infection to your baby, who is no longer surrounded by the protective fluid.
Breaking the amniotic sac differs from membrane sweeping, where the membranes connected to your uterus are broken. The goal is to make your cervix start effacing and dilating on its own, which causes contractions to start. Your healthcare provider may get labor started by swiping her finger across the fine membranes that connect the amniotic sac. This causes the uterus to release prostaglandin, just as it would if labor began naturally, which should in turn cause the cervix to soften and contractions to start. This process isn’t always pain-free, and while it isn’t meant to break your water it sometimes does.
There are no guarantees with any of these methods. Each woman and pregnancy is different. You could have a fast, smooth induction or you could have a very long labor.
There are also natural ways to try and induce labor. Some of these include:
- Walking may help bring the baby into position, with the help of gravity and the swaying motion of your hips.
- Nipple stimulation triggers oxytocin, which might start contractions.
- Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, which can help soften the connective tissues of the cervix.
- Having sex may work because semen contains cervix-softening prostaglandins.
- Eating spicy foods is purported to get your innards rumbling, kick-starting your uterus.
With all of these natural ways to induce labor (and there are many more not listed), some may kick-start labor or they may do nothing at all. It does not hurt to try all or a few and see what happens.
There are risks involved with labor induction which include:
- The uterus contracting too quickly, causing changes in fetal heart rate or umbilical cord problems.
- Infection in mother or baby.
- Uterine rupture.
- Increased risk of C-section.
- In rare cases, fetal death.
It is important to know that during any of these labor inductions, your healthcare provider will be closely watching and monitoring you and your baby. This will help your healthcare provider to assess how he or she is dealing with the stress of induced labor and take steps to protect both of you.
It’s best to make the decision to induce after weighing your options and discussing them with your healthcare provider.