Labor is a process that generally happens naturally in most women. However, it is estimated that 25% of women will need induction of their labor. Labor induction (also known as inducing labor) is stimulating the uterus by external means for faster childbirth through the vagina. This procedure has been increasingly done since the year 1996.
Doctors induce labor in any of the following ways:
- Use of synthetic prostaglandins: Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that are naturally released by the body during labor. When labor fails to start by itself, their synthetic preparation can be administered in the form of a vaginal gel, vaginal insert, or oral pills. They work by thinning or softening (ripening) the cervix. This helps the cervix in responding to the contractions of the uterus, which then opens.
- Amniotomy: This means rupturing the amniotic sac. Your doctor uses his fingers or a hook to make a small opening in the amniotic sac and rupture it. This results in ‘water breaking;’ the woman can feel a warm gush of fluid with the opening of the sac.
- Use of oxytocin: Oxytocin is a hormone that increases the contractions of the uterus. It is available in synthetic form and given intravenously to induce labor or speed up the labor process.
The doctor can also use a combination of any of the above procedures to induce labor. They will monitor the number of contractions and the baby’s heart rate throughout the induction process.
Different women have different speeds of progressing into labor. Even if induction of labor happens, the time after which the delivery will take place depends on
- The time it takes for the cervix to ripen.
- The type of induction technique used.
- The body’s response to that particular method of induction.
It may take a few hours to 2–3 days for the successful induction of labor (the result being a vaginal delivery).
Why do doctors induce labor?
It is not always necessary to induce labor. Doctors induce labor when
- Labor fails to start by itself even after crossing two weeks beyond the due date.
- There is less amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, which surrounds the baby.
- The amniotic sac has ruptured but labor did not start.
- There is an infection in the uterus.
- The baby weighs less for its gestational age.
- The mother develops diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy.
- The placenta gets separated from the uterus.
Induction can also be induced electively without having any of the reasons above. This may be carried out if the pregnant woman is full-term and
- Has a history of rapid vaginal deliveries
- Stays far away from the hospital or medical center
What are the risks of inducing labor?
Labor induction carries various possible risks, including:
- Induction failure: Induction of labor fails in around 25% of women when induction has been attempted. At such times, doctors may have no option but to go for a cesarean section.
- Infection: If the amniotic sac remains ruptured for a long time even after trying ways to induce labor, it may get infected.
- A low heart rate of the baby: The medicines used to induce the labor may affect the baby’s oxygen levels and cause its heart rate to become low.
- Bleeding: The induction process may end up affecting the capacity of the uterus to relax. The contracted state of the uterus may result in bleeding after the delivery.
Women should stay away from risky tricks, such as consuming castor oil, exercising, or having sex to induce labor. They should know that labor induction is not for everyone. Only the doctor can decide the right candidates for whom labor can be induced with safe and evidence-based methods.
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