Inducing labor in a pregnant woman is a medical process that some women have to undertake to ensure the greater safety of their unborn child and also of the woman herself. It is the process of stimulating contractions in the pregnant woman in order to bring about childbirth. Though it is not very common, nor is it extremely rare, and so it is wise to be aware of what is involved, as there are a significant percentage of pregnancies that end up with labor being induced.
It is often used in circumstances where a pregnancy has gone past its due date. The major benefit of inducing labor is that it helps the pregnant woman avoid the risks associated with pregnancy prolongation. Some of these risks can be medically serious and so it is important for a pregnant woman and her partner to understand that inducement is often the safest option for all concerned.
That said, a medically sound evaluation must be made, as inducing labor can be uncomfortable and carry its own risks. It’s therefore important to understand the pros and cons before making any decisions.
Reasons for labor inducement
The main reason for inducing labor is that the pregnancy has extended further than the customary 40 week length of most pregnancies. Once the gestation period has elapsed, there may be associated risks with allowing the pregnancy to continue without inducing labor.
Preeclampsia is also a significant risk if the pregnancy is too long. This can be a risk for the mother and the baby. It is a condition that means the mother’s blood pressure is raised to potentially unsafe levels and it can usually only be treated by inducing labor and giving birth.
If the baby is overdue, there can be risks of complications to the delivery of the baby and to its health and the health of the mother. It can therefore be the safest option, though not one that is risk free, to induce labor.
Risks associated with labor inducement
There are clear risks with inducing labor, as it is a process that is aiming to deliver a baby against what is the seeming readiness of the mother’s body. Uterine rupture is a well known risk, as is fetal distress, where the baby is put through a process for which it may not be entirely, or ideally, ready. Induced labor can also be a longer and more difficult process than labor that is not induced, and this in itself carries risks. There are also risks of increased bleeding and it is possible that the uterus might be overstimulated by the processes of inducing. Though pregnancy and childbirth always carry risks of infection, these risks are arguably raised during induced labor, and there is therefore a heightened risk of infection, due to the more complex medical interventions required.
Natural Methods to Induce Labor
Though it may sound implausible, various studies have shown that walking can help induce labor and stimulate the contractions that precede labor. There is evidence that walking helps to shift the baby downward. That said, this is in no sense a guarantee, but it may be the case that, if you are a pregnant mum who has been relatively static at home, getting out and taking a few walks in the days around when you are expecting to go into labor may just help stimulate the contractions that indicate readiness to give birth.
Nipple stimulation is a popular and recommended method for inducing labor. It involves stimulating the nipples to cause contractions in the uterus. During pregnancy, nipples have heightened sensitivity and it is thought that nipple stimulation helps in the release of oxytocin.
There is of course no guaranteed causal connection, but there are studies that show a clear correlation between nipple stimulation and women going into labor.
This is very much a matter that is down to the individual woman and her partner, but many women have, anecdotally, suggested that copulation during pregnancy was a factor in ensuring that labor was timely and did not need to be induced. In addition, human seminal fluid contains prostaglandin, a hormone-like substance that is known to soften the cervix and therefore help in stimulating the contractions that lead to labor.
Eating spicy foods
This is largely merely anecdotal, but it is perhaps worth pondering to see if it may work for you. If you like spicy foods, there is no harm to trying this, and some women claim that spicy foods have helped trigger their contractions. That said, be aware that excessive spicy foods may lead to dehydration and stomach pains, so be moderate here. Remember, this is also an approach that may simply be an artificial correlation if the mums concerned happen to eat spicy foods regularly anyway, as they do in many parts of the world.
Acupressure has been around for centuries. It involves using pressure on certain points of the body, in particular the back, the feet, or the hands to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. Studies have also shown that acupressure can be effective in helping to induce labor. Its power lies in being a relaxing process that eases muscle tension and that works to redirect the flow of energy in ways that can help start the processes of labor. It is certainly true that the feet and the back contain a great deal of the body’s tensions so redirecting that energy away to the center of the body may be useful.
Many women turn to natural remedies as a way of inducing labor, as herbal remedies are believed to help encourage contractions and the ripening of the cervix. Herbs that are often used to stimulate labor include evening primrose oil, raspberry leaf tea, and turmeric. More broadly, think of herbal teas and infusions as good forms of hydration throughout your pregnancy.
What to Expect During Labor Inducement
Physical and emotional changes
The physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy are significant and many women will experience these differently. For many women, fatigue is a major component of pregnancy and this can even lead to depression, which can impact the way the body feels physically and the way it responds to the processes of the pregnancy itself. It is really important as a woman that you are able to have support during the later stages of your pregnancy especially, and that you allow your life to have as many things in it as you can that enable you to feel well-regulated and positive.
Duration of contractions
Contractions will usually last somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, but the precise length of time will vary from woman to woman. In most cases, labor is divided into three stages and contractions become increasingly longer, stronger, and closer together as labor progresses.
In general, you should be able to time contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. If your contractions are five to six minutes apart or less, and are getting progressively closer together, then labor may well be imminent.
This is an extremely important part of any healthy delivery, and you must ensure that your labor and the processes prior to it are monitored. It’s important to understand the physical signs of labor and the timing of your contractions. It’s also important to take note of any pain or discomfort experienced during the labor process. Though it can be difficult, try to carry on communicating with the medical team. To ensure the best possible outcome, your medical team will be monitoring vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels to ensure both your and the baby’s wellbeing and safety.
Overcoming pain during labor
Labor is often painful and there is no point avoiding that plain truth. That said, the pain can be minimized and made bearable. Breathing exercises make a major difference. In addition, warm baths may also limit your distress as a mother giving birth. There are also a large number of medications that can be administered by the hospital or clinic. You can also use atmosphere therapies involving music to help your mind stay calm and focused on the baby and not on the pain surrounding labor. If you are in real pain, however, you must communicate with the medical team.
For many women, this is an option they prefer to take. In some cases, it is personal preference, in others it is medically necessary or advisable. Like all invasive medical processes, however, it is not without risks and you must weigh up the situation carefully. In very complicated births it may need to be taken as an emergency option to protect your or the baby’s health if the labor becomes too complex.
Its advantages include that it can enable more control over the delivery time and some associated risk factors of traditional birth. Some women also claim that it maintains their genitalia in a better condition for ongoing pleasure post-childbirth, since the muscles have not been put under as much pressure to stretch. Among the disadvantages are that it leaves a very sizable scar and it is also very far from being risk-free, as it is a major invasive process that can, if it goes wrong, be very dangerous for the mother and possibly also the baby.
Precautionary Measures Before Inducing Labor
Consultation with doctor
Consultation is essential throughout a pregnancy, but certainly as you approach labor. Generally, if your water has been broken for more than 24 hours, or you’re physically uncomfortable and want to speed up the process, it’s a good indication that you should seek medical advice and support. Be aware, though, that every pregnancy can have its own quirks, so do not be afraid to speak to a medical service at any time if you need reassurance.
Pre- labor inducement tests
Tests before any induced labor are an important part of any labor induction process. They can include medical procedures such as a cervical exam, to measure the amount of cervical dilation and effacement. They may also include urine tests, ultrasounds, and other tests to make sure that the baby is healthy and ready to be born. These tests will help your doctor decide if it’s safe for you to proceed with labor induction. Be aware of these processes in advance of reaching the point when your labor is imminent, as you want to be as calm as possible at that time.
Get an epidural ready
This can require foreplanning, and depending on the health system you are in you may need to check with your insurance provider to make sure they cover the cost. The last thing you want is a bill that adds stress to your mind and body. In addition, depending on where you are, the hospital may require that you have a pre-consultation with an anesthesiologist before your labor begins.
Do not be caught out by this process. Make sure to have had a conversation in advance with the midwife or doctor or hospital that will be carrying out your birth. It really is important to have a great relationship with your midwife and also to have a support network that you can call on. Though epidurals are common practice, nothing is without some risk, so be very well prepped emotionally before you get to the stage of the injection itself.
Have a birthing support
Birthing support can be vital for many women, as it ensures that you neither are alone nor feel alone. Birthing support fundamentally involves having someone who can provide guidance, encouragement, and comfort during labor and delivery. Usually this may be a partner, but it can also be a family member, a friend, a doula, or a midwife. These people can be incredibly important to securing your emotional wellbeing during what is unquestionably a highly stressful process. It may make a huge difference to the birth and to your and the baby’s health to have the right birthing support, so give this a lot of careful thought.
Professional Procedures to Induce Labor
Amniotomy is a method of inducing labor that involves breaking the amniotic sac. It is a common method and is generally considered safe. It involves a doctor or midwife carefully inserting a small plastic hook into the amniotic sac to break it. Though there can be slight discomfort, it shouldn’t be painful, and after the amniotic sac is broken, contractions will usually start within minutes.
Oxytocin, which you might also see written as pitocin, is a naturally occurring hormone which helps to start contractions and bring on labor. It is produced in the brain during labor and delivery, but can also be administered as a drug to help speed up labor. When administered as a medication, it causes the uterus to contract more frequently, and with greater intensity, stimulating labor and advancing delivery. This can make labor both shorter and less painful.
However, be aware that in some cases, it may be necessary to combine several doses of oxytocin with other forms of labor induction, but your midwife and medical team will guide you through any of those additional processes. Generally speaking, oxytocin works well and is safe.
Prostaglandin, which we mentioned near the start of the article, is a hormone-like substance that helps aid in the induction and dilation of the cervix during labor. It can also stimulate contractions of the uterus and help to ease the delivery process. It is present in male sperm and it can mean that intimacy during pregnancy makes it more likely that labor will not need to be induced as the cervix is gradually softened and ripened by the prostaglandin in the sperm.
If prostaglandin is used at the time of birth, it can be administered either orally or intravenously, and is sometimes used in combination with other methods of induction such as oxytocin. As always, conversation with your midwife and doctor will help you reach a decision as to its viability in your circumstances.
This sounds painful, but, properly performed, is a safe and well-recognised approach to inducing labor. The process involves the doctor manually separating the amniotic sac from the lower segment of the uterus. This process is designed to release the hormones that can start labor contractions. Additionally, it can serve to help the cervix soften, thin out and dilate.
Monitor fetal heart rate
Among the reasons for monitoring the fetal heart rate is to assess the wellbeing of your baby. The fetal heart rate should stay within a certain range throughout your labor and delivery, and if it falls outside that range, it can be a sign of distress for your baby. It is therefore extremely important to keep this particular medical metric monitored carefully. Though it may therefore require some discomfort for you as the mother it is worth knowing how vital it is to have this knowledge.
Pregnancy is one of the most special things any woman can experience, so make sure that you are well aware of all your options, so that when you reach the final stages of pregnancy and labor arrives, you have as much knowledge as possible. This will ensure the birthing processes are as comfortable for you as possible as you bring a new life into the world.
Check out our other articles on Healthnile on how to optimize your health, so that you and your partner can be as healthy and strong a pair of parents as possible.