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When the birth process is given an artificial start through medical intervention it is called induced labor. Recently this procedure has become popular for convenience. It should not be performed until at least 39 weeks and only when the benefits outweigh the risks.

Inducing Labor

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association

Inducing labor is when the birth process is given an artificial start through medical interventions or other methods. If your induction is not done for medical reasons or as an emergency, induction is elective. The decision to induce has recently been on the rise for convenience or to accommodate busy schedules. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued guidelines recommending that whenever possible, induction should not be performed until at least 39 weeks, and then only when benefits outweigh risks.

What are some possible reasons for inducing labor?

Labor is likely to be induced:

  • When a complication develops such as: hypertension, preeclampsia, heart disease, gestational diabetes, or bleeding during pregnancy.
  • If the baby is in danger of not getting enough nutrients and oxygen from the placenta.
  • Your amniotic sac has ruptured but labor hasn't started within 24-48 hours.
  • Your pregnancy is prolonged beyond 42 weeks; there is evidence that some babies are at risk after this stage due to a gradual decrease in the supply of nutrients from the placenta.
  • The baby is small for gestational age which could cause fetal growth retardation.
  • There is an infection inside the uterus known as chorioamnionitis.

How is labor induced?

Labor can be induced by the following methods:

1. Medications:

Prostaglandin: Suppositories are inserted into the vagina during the evening to cause the uterus to go into labor by morning. The advantage to this method is you are free to move around the labor room.

Oxytocin: The body naturally produces the hormone oxytocin to stimulate contractions. Pitocin and Syntocinon are brand name medications that are forms of oxytocin that can be given through an IV at low doses to stimulate contractions.

What are the advantages of taking oxytocin? Oxytocin can initiate labor which might not have started on its own and it can speed up the pace of labor.

What are the concerns for taking oxytocin? Labor can progress too quickly, causing contractions to become difficult to manage without pain medication. Oxytocin may need to be discontinued if contractions become too powerful and close together.

2. Artificial rupture of the membranes (AROM): When the bag of water (amniotic sac) breaks or ruptures, production of the hormone prostaglandin increases, speeding up contractions. Sometimes a doctor may choose to rupture the amniotic membrane artificially. A sterile, plastic, thin hook is brushed against the membranes just inside your cervix. The baby's head will move down against the cervix, which usually causes the contractions to become stronger. This procedure releases a gush of warm amniotic fluid from the vagina.

What are the Advantages of artificial rupture of the membranes?

  • Labor may be shortened by an hour.
  • The procedure allows the amniotic fluid to be examined for the presence of meconium, which may be a sign of fetal distress.
  • The heart rate can be monitored with direct access to the baby's scalp.

What are the Concerns of artificial rupture of the membranes?

  • The baby may turn to a breech position, making birth more difficult if the membranes are ruptured before the baby's head is engaged.
  • It is possible for the umbilical cord to slip out first (prolapsed cord).
  • Infection can occur if there is too much time between rupture and birth

3. Natural: Nipple Stimulation is a natural form of inducing labor that can be done manually or with an electric breastfeeding pump. The hormone oxytocin will naturally be produced to cause contractions. The concept is the same as when a baby nurses right after birth, stimulating contractions, which slows the bleeding.

What expectations should I have about induced labor?

  • Induced labor should not be more painful or difficult than natural labor.
  • You can still do breathing exercises and push at your own pace if you prefer to avoid pain medications throughout delivery.
  • You can also request an epidural anesthetic or some other form of pain relief as needed.

The following are questions that can bring clarity and insight when you do not understand or feel comfortable with suggested interventions.

  • Why do I need this procedure?
  • How will it help me and my baby?
  • Are other options available? If so, what are they? What are the risks?
  • What might happen if the procedure isn't done?
  • What will happen if we wait an hour?
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