The idea of labor induction can be scary. While the vast majority of babies are delivered naturally, there are a handful of reasons your doctor might recommend inducing labor at the end of your pregnancy. Doctors generally do not advise labor induction for convenience, such as wanting your baby born on a certain date. Ideally, labor induction is reserved for women who experience longer-than-average pregnancies and health risks.
Labor induction refers to procedures that enable a vaginal birth to occur without contractions. Doctors usually resort to labor induction to protect the health of the mother and the baby.
The primary advantage of induced labor is to keep the baby healthy. Health risks, such as the placenta not offering the baby all the nutrients he or she needs, increase every week of pregnancy past 40 weeks. The risk of infection also increases, as well as the likelihood the mother will require an emergency cesarean section.
Regarding infant safety, the advantages of labor induction outweigh the disadvantages. However, doctors do not recommend labor induction simply for convenience because the process can pose unnecessary risks for healthy mothers and babies. Disadvantages are related to the artificial oxytocin and procedures used and include increased pain during delivery, low blood pressure, postpartum hemorrhaging, and uterine rupture.
Doctors induce labor in several ways. The most common way is to administer an artificial form of oxytocin which, in normal circumstances, the body naturally produces to begin the labor process. Other methods of inducing labor include manually breaking the amniotic sac that surrounds the baby -- also known as breaking the water -- and administering medicine to thin and soften the cervix.
The most common reason to induce labor is to prompt the arrival of a baby more than 42 weeks past his or her due date. Doctors consider most pregnancies to be full-term at 40 weeks. Pregnancies that extend more than 14 days beyond this point are considered post-term and carry the health risks noted above.
Another reason a doctor may induce a pregnant woman is if he or she detects infection in the mother's uterus. Such an infection can cause the unborn baby to receive insufficient nutrients from the placenta, or contract the same infection as the mother.
Pregnancy-related high blood pressure and the dangerous condition that can cause it -- preeclampsia -- are two more reasons a doctor may induce labor. High blood pressure increases the mother's risk of stroke or heart attack. For the baby, high blood pressure in the mother decreases the blood flow to the placenta and may slow the baby's growth rate.
Sometimes, the placenta becomes separated from the uterine walls. When that happens, the baby stops getting the blood and nutrients he or she needs to thrive and continue to grow in the womb. Labor induction is recommended in such circumstances, even if the baby is pre-term.
Most people think of a woman's water breaking as the first step in labor and delivery. However, sometimes this step occurs unaccompanied by the subsequent, and essential, contractions. Labor induction is recommended in these cases because, without the amniotic sac, the baby becomes vulnerable to infection.
Rh disease occurs when the mother's and baby's blood are incompatible and have a different Rh factor. This issue can complicate delivery because the mother's red blood cells may get into the baby's bloodstream. Labor induction in this event enables delivery before the mother's blood has an opportunity to destroy too many of the baby's red blood cells.
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