In a textbook delivery, you go into labor after 39 to 41 weeks of pregnancy, you have contractions, then you have more contractions closer together, and then your baby is born. However, in some pregnancies, your body simply has not read the textbook or the textbook must be thrown out the window because you need help to get your labor started.
While it is generally best for labor to start and continue on its own, your healthcare provider may need to induce your labor for any of several reasons. In many cases, inducing labor may be needed to protect your health and that of your baby.
Most doctors and midwives will just keep an eye on things if you are several days late in delivering. But if your labor hasn’t started naturally by two weeks after your due date, your doctor or midwife will talk to you about getting things started. Why not wait some more? Because your placenta has a “best by” date on it. It starts to deteriorate the longer it gets past your due date. This deterioration can compromise your baby’s health. A longer pregnancy also can mean a larger baby that can make vaginal delivery more difficult.
There are other reasons why labor may need to be induced. Your water may have broken, but you are not having any contractions. You may have a medical issue such as high blood pressure or diabetes. You have a history of rapid delivery that makes getting to the hospital in time a concern if labor starts on its own. You have a uterine infection. Your placenta is separating from the wall of your uterus.
How Is Labor Induced?
There are a few different ways to induce labor and which one is used may depend on how ready to deliver your uterus is. One method is called stripping the membranes and is done in your healthcare provider’s office. He or she will put a finger through your cervix to separate the amniotic sac from your uterus. This causes your body to release hormones that help get labor started. It can still take up to a few days for labor to start with this method.
If your cervix does not look ready for delivery, your doctor or midwife may use hormones called prostaglandins to ripen the cervix. These may be taken by mouth, but are often in the form of a suppository that is placed in your vagina. This is done in the hospital.
If your cervix is dilated, but contractions have not started, you may be given a medication called Pitocinto start your contractions. This is a hormone that will be administered through an intravenous line.
What Are the Risks of Inducing Labor?
You have to have a good reason to induce labor because it does carry some risks to you and your baby. The primary risk is that your baby is not developed sufficiently to be born. Any uncertainty on when you became pregnant could lead to a wrong due date and a baby that is premature.
Inducing labor can increase your chances of needing a cesarean delivery
There are other risks, including a greater risk of infection that can occur with stripping the membranes, more bleeding after delivery, or a prolapsed umbilical cord. These risks are why induction of labor should not be done simply to get the pregnancy over and done with. You and your healthcare provider must talk about inducing labor and why it is needed and arrive at the best decision for you and your baby.
You may also want to read the following related post in Pregistry’s blog: Labor Induction – Why Is It Necessary & What Does It Involve?
March of Dimes. Inducing labor.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Inducing labor: When to wait, when to induce.
Parents.com. How does a doctor induce labor?