Obstetricians may recommend labor induction –the use of medications or other actions to initiate labor – when it is thought to benefit the health of the mother or fetus. None medical laborinduction, or elective induction, is performed occasionally when it is considered prudent, such as when an expectant mother lives a long distance from the hospital.
There are a variety of techniques OBGYNs use to induce labor. To prepare for labor and delivery, the cervix must be ripe. This is a term used to describe the softening and thinning of the cervix that typically occurs a few weeks before the onset of labor. If the cervix has not already ripened, medications called prostaglandins may be inserted vaginally or taken orally to dilate the cervix.
Cervical dilators, small catheters with inflatable balloon tips, or rods of laminaria (a product that absorbs moisture) may also be used to mechanically widen the cervix.
To encourage the start of labor, your obstetrician may strip the amniotic membranes. Using a gloved hand, the membranes connecting the amniotic sac to the uterine wall are stripped away. This action can signal the body to release prostaglandins, triggering the spontaneous start of labor.
If the cervix is ripe and the baby is positioned deep in the pelvis, an amniotomy, or manual rupturing of the membranes, may also be effective. Using a thin plastic instrument, your OBGYN ruptures the amniotic sac to initiate labor. Sometimes this is referred to as “breaking the water.”
Oxytocin (Pitocin) is a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. The drug is administered through an IV to start or speed labor. The strength and frequency of contractions, as well as baby’s heart rate, are closely monitored.
Not every woman is a candidate for labor induction. Those who have previously undergone uterine fibroid removal or who have active genital herpes should not be induced. Other contraindications include transverse fetal position, umbilical cord prolapse and placenta previa.
Most labor inductions are successful, resulting in a vaginal delivery. If labor induction fails, cesarean delivery may be necessary.