Inducing Labor: What You Need to Know

A doctor will recommend inducing labor when the risk of waiting for nature to take its course outweighs any risks associated with inducing. If you are considering requesting that your doctor induce labor for convenience, you should reconsider.

Medical Reasons to Induce Labor
If a doctor recommends inducing labor, there is likely a good reason. Doctors weigh the benefits to a mother and baby of inducing labor against the risks. If continuing the pregnancy is a greater risk than promoting the birth, they will ask to induce labor. In some cases, a caesarean birth may be another alternative.

The most common reason to induce labor is a post-term pregnancy, those lasting beyond 40 weeks. When pregnancies continue beyond 42 weeks, the baby may become too big to deliver normally, the placenta may deteriorate and not give the baby enough nutrition and oxygen and fecal matter in the amniotic sac may cause lung problems at birth.

Other reasons a doctor may want to induce labor include health problems of the mother, high blood pressure, diabetes, preclampsia or kidney disease and signs that the baby may be in distress or need medical care. If a mother's water is broken and labor doesn't start within 24 hours, a doctor will generally induce labor.

How a Doctor Can Induce Labor
When a woman is nearing her due date, especially if she has had other children, the cervix begins to soften, thin and dilate, a process known as ripening. If the cervix is ripe, labor might be induced just by breaking the amniotic sac with a sterile tool. Sometimes a doctor will also insert a gloved finger and loosen membranes. The cervix may also be dilated with a catheter.

If these methods don't work, or the cervix isn't ripe, medications, usually synthetic hormones, will be given. These medications may be given by IV drip, by mouth or by inserting them into the vagina. Depending on what medications are given and what stage of pregnancy the woman is in, this method of inducing labor may take hours or days.

Problems with Induced Labor
Women who are healthy, have had previous children and have a ripe cervix are the best candidates for induced labor. They may have few problems and may feel that the relief of getting birth over with is worth the increased risk of a hard labor. Other women, however, including first-time mothers, may have problems.

A woman who wants to deliver without using drugs for pain probably should not ask her doctor to induce labor unless medically necessary. Induced labor is often harder and more painful than natural labor. An induced labor requires close monitoring of the baby, and the mother will probably be hooked up to fetal monitors and IV drips, so it won't be as easy to walk and move around as it is in a normal delivery.

Another factor to discuss with your doctor is the fact that many induced labors end with a caesarean section due to complications. Medications that induce labor may cause contractions to become too strong and fast, cutting off blood flow to the baby. The baby may be too large or in the wrong position to be born normally. And sometimes the procedure just doesn't work.

Doctors probably won't induce labor in women who have had previous caesarians and those carrying multiple babies. If the placenta or cord is in an unusual position or isn't able to stand strong contractions, or if the baby needs be delivered quickly because of distress, the doctor won't induce labor.

Home Remedies
Since the beginning of time, women have tried to speed up those last uncomfortable weeks of pregnancy. Some old wives' remedies, like a good walk, a bumpy car ride or having sex, do little harm and may even help if the cervix is ready for birth. Taking castor oil has long been recommended, but no research proves it works, except to give you a thoroughly good cleaning out and a miserable time with diarrhea and cramps.

There are some herbs that have the ability to induce labor, but their use is dangerous and unpredictable and should not be attempted. Massaging the nipples may induce labor in some women by causing the release of a natural hormone, oxytocin. Doctors warn against it because it often causes extremely violent contractions that can harm the baby.

Whatever your reasons for considering induced labor, the decision needs to be made carefully and with medical advice.

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