There are many reasons why labor induction may be safer for you or your baby than waiting for it to happen naturally. The most common reason, of course, is when you are still pregnant one or two weeks past your due date. Waiting longer than this may be dangerous for your baby as your placenta is at risk of becoming less effective in delivering nutrients which can lead to problems for your newborn baby and, in the worst case, stillbirth. An overdue baby is also at higher risk of inhaling meconium, which can result in serious issues at birth, such as a lung infection or breathing problems.1
Other reasons for inducing labor include:
- The development of complications such as hypertension, heart disease, preeclampsia, or heavy bleeding during pregnancy
- Rupture of the amniotic sac but no sign of labor 24 to 48 hours later
- Presence of an infection such as chorioamionitis
- Complications with the placenta, including reduced blood flow or placental abruption
- Low levels of amniotic fluid1
Methods of induction:
Unfortunately, there are no scientifically proven ways to induce your baby naturally. A couple of methods that may work without causing harm, and that you can try at home, are: having a breast massage/stimulating the nipples, thereby increasing oxytocin levels, or… having sex! It turns out that prostaglandins in the male’s ejaculate seem to stimulate the cervix, which may lead to contractions.2 However, the most reliable and safe ways of inducing labor involve the intervention of a physician or midwife. These include stripping the membranes, whereby your healthcare provider inserts their gloved fingers beyond the cervical membrane and rotates it to separate the amniotic sac from the uterus wall. This can be performed in your doctor’s office. Another mechanical method of inducing labor is to break the waters, if they are not broken already – this is usually done with a small plastic hook. Other methods involve ripening the cervix with either medication (prostasglandins) or using a mechanical dilator such a balloon-tipped catheter. One of the most reliable methods is the use of a synthetic version of oxytocin called pitcoin.3
Although pitcoin is very effective, it is associated with a few risks. A recently published study showed a higher risk of having a baby with reduced fitness at birth -or needing admission to the NICU- if the mother was given pitcoin for labor induction.However, the main investigator of the study was cautious and stated that “…we don’t want to discourage the use of pitocin, but simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use’’.4
A study conducted in 2013 identified labor induction or labor augmentation (increasing contractions after spontaneous labor has begun) as potential risk factors for the baby developing autism. However, other potential risk factors for autism must be considered as well, such as delay in the delivery.5 Moreover, early results from the largest study conducted in this area have shown no increased risk of autism associated with pitcoin induction.6 One of the main authors concluded that “Induction or augmentation of labor is an important strategy to minimize risk to mother and baby in some situations. The study reassures both patients and physicians that induction or augmentation of labor does not appear to be associated with autism spectrum disorder risk’’.7
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You may also want to read the following related post in Pregistry’s blog: Why Labor Sometimes Needs a Kickstart.