The Risks of Inducing Labor
Labor induction also is known as inducing labor is the stimulation of uterine contractions during pregnancy before labor begins on its own to achieve a vaginal birth. There are a number of reasons your obstetrician might want to induce labor before your due date or before they naturally start on their own. It may be that you’re overdue with no signs that you’ll be going into labor anytime soon, or that your water (meaning the amniotic sac of fluid your baby floats in and is protected by) has broken. A situation that puts him at risk of infection. (Breaking the amniotic sac in order to induce labor is called amniotomy.)
Sometimes inducing labor is the best thing for a mother or her child. But it’s not always necessary to rush things along. In fact, it can cause problems or even be unsafe.
Generally, inducing labor is safe, but there are risks:
- Higher risk of a C-section. If induction doesn’t work, your doctor might decide to switch to a C-section instead. If after her water is broken a woman isn’t able to give birth vaginally, it will be necessary to deliver the baby via C-section. This is because once the amniotic sac is gone, the baby is more vulnerable to infection. A cesarean in an induced labor also is more likely if the baby is in a poor position for being born naturally or is in fetal distress.
- Health problems for your baby. Women who are induced often have babies born a little early between the 37th and 39th weeks. Early babies can have problems with breathing and other things. They might have a higher risk of long-term developmental problems. Being born even a week or two early can cause a baby to be more likely to have more trouble breathing, eating, and maintaining a normal and steady body temperature, which often means he simply isn’t physically developed enough to be ready to leave the womb and will need special care in the NICU until he is.
- Increased risk of infection. Breaking the amniotic sac can lead to infection if you don’t deliver within a day or two after induction. Some methods of labor induction, such as rupturing your membranes, might increase the risk of infection for both mother and baby. Prolonged membrane rupture increases the risk of an infection.
- Low heart rate. The medications used to induce labor oxytocin or a prostaglandin might cause abnormal or excessive contractions, which can diminish your baby’s oxygen supply and lower your baby’s heart rate. This can lead to a fetal distress and makes labor longer and more painful for the mother.
- Bleeding after delivery. Labor induction increases the risk that your uterine muscles won’t properly contract after you give birth (uterine atony), which can lead to serious bleeding after delivery.
- Risk of Jaundice. Jaundice is an inability of the liver to break down red blood cells. In newborns, it’s caused when the baby’s liver simply isn’t yet mature enough to do this job. The result is an increase in the levels of bilirubin in the baby’s blood, bringing a tell-tale yellow hue to his skin and the whites of his eyes. Jaundice isn’t uncommon and it’s treatable, but it can mean a longer stay in the hospital.
Labor induction isn’t appropriate for everyone. Labor induction might not be an option if:
- You’ve had a prior C-section with a classical incision or major uterine surgery
- The placenta is blocking your cervix (placenta previa)
- Your baby is lying buttocks first (breech) or sideways (transverse lie)
- You have an active genital herpes infection
- The umbilical cord slips into your vagina before delivery (umbilical cord prolapse)
How long it takes for labor to start depends on how ripe your cervix is when your induction starts, the induction techniques used and how your body responds to them. If your cervix needs time to ripen, it might take days before labor begins. If you simply need a little push, you might be holding your baby in your arms in a matter of hours.
After the procedure
In most cases, labor induction leads to a successful vaginal birth. If labor induction fails, you might need to try another induction or have a C-section.
If you have a successful vaginal delivery after induction, there might be no implications for future pregnancies. If the induction leads to a C-section, your health care provider can help you decide whether to attempt a vaginal delivery with a subsequent pregnancy or to schedule a repeat C-section.
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