Inducing Labor: 8 Reasons It Should Be a Last Resort

hospital bed for pregnant womanPlenty of expectant moms get to the point in their pregnancy where they joke about wanting to "evict" their little tenant because they're so ready to give birth. What's no joking matter, however, is how frequently labor is induced -- often for non-medical reasons, such as wanting to minimize end-of-pregnancy discomfort, the health care provider suspects the baby is large, or because the timing works better for the health care provider. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 23 percent of pregnant women are undergoing induction.

Midwife Kristin Mallon, CNM, explains that she supports induction when the cervix is "favorable" (as in it's softened and become more distensible ahead of dilation, labor, and delivery), but "there are several reasons to avoid an induction with an unfavorable cervix." At the same time, many women would prefer to let labor start on its own -- even if their cervix is favorable. Here, eight reasons why ...

  1. It increases the risk of medical interventions: Most commonly, labors are induced with intravenous Pitocin (the synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, which triggers contractions). Use of the drug requires that a woman stay in the hospital for the duration of her labor, which raises her odds of having to face further medical interventions.
  2. You'll need more pain medication: Because being induced by Pitocin triggers sudden, intense contractions, it means a "higher likelihood of using pain medications, such as epidural," says Mallon.
  3. Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM) may be necessary: Another intervention linked to induction is EFM, which may be necessary, because the powerful contractions brought on by Pitocin can cause fetal distress or even uterine rupture.
  4. It increases your C-section risk: EFM has been known to set off false alarms, which often lead to unnecessary C-sections. Or if induction doesn't work, there's more pressure on doctors to deliver surgically. Research has shown for several years that voluntary inductions lead to more C-sections. A study of 7,800 first-time mothers found that those who had their labor induced were twice as likely to ultimately need C-sections, which of course come with their own risks, such as a longer recovery time, an increased chance of blood clots, and possible infection at the surgery site.
  5. You might experience uncomfortable, worrisome side effects: Nausea and vomiting are frequently associated with use of oxytocin, and rarely, heart rhythm problems and allergic reactions may occur.
  6. There's a higher risk of premature birth: As worrying as it may sound, inducing labor comes with a higher risk of delivering a baby before its fully developed. New studies show babies who are even slightly premature have more problems at birth and beyond.
  7. There is a higher risk of the baby being admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: Last year, researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC found that induction and augmentation of labor with oxytocin was an independent risk factor for unexpected admission to the NICU lasting more than 24 hours for full-term infants. That's because the artificial contractions that come with Pitocin may affect an infant's ability to breathe, and in turn, they may need to be admitted to the NICU to be put on a respirator.
  8. You may experience difficulty breastfeeding: Because Pitocin has an anti-diuretic effect and causes you to retain fluid, it may lead to severe engorgement or a delay in milk production, making it more difficult to breastfeed.

Has your doctor suggested you be induced? If so, how did you respond?


Image via daquellamanera/Flickr

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