The Risks of Inducing Labor

5 Things to Know Before You're Induced

Labor in hospital
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If you're pregnant, there are a number of reasons your obstetrician might want to induce labor—in other words, stimulate your uterus to begin having contractions before your due date or before they naturally start on their own. It may be that you're overdue with no signs that you'll be going into labor anytime soon, or that your water (meaning the amniotic sac of fluid your baby floats in and is protected by) has broken—a situation that puts him at risk of infection. (Breaking the amniotic sac in order to induce labor is called amniotomy.)

Perhaps you've developed a condition such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes that will put your health or your baby's at risk if you stay pregnant. In some cases, labor induction is scheduled based on logistics—because the mom-to-be lives so far from the hospital it would be risky to wait until she goes into labor for her to arrive there. This is called elective induction, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology(ACOG).

Put simply, sometimes inducing labor is the best thing for a mother or her child. But it's not always necessary to rush things along. In fact, it can cause problems or even be unsafe. Here are five reasons why.

Increased risk the baby will develop an abnormal heart rate, shoulder dystocia, or some other problem during birth

Inducing labor involves intervening in the body's natural processes, by breaking the amniotic sac, using medication, or both. However it's done, it can lead to fetal distress. Another factor: When labor is induced using medication, contractions tend to be stronger and more forceful than those that occur naturally. This can cause your baby to get into or stay in a position that makes labor longer and more painful for the mother.

Increased risk the baby will need to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)

A baby born via induction hasn't yet sent signals to the mother to start labor, which often means he simply isn't physically developed enough to be ready to leave the womb and will need special care in the NICU until he is. Being born even a week or two early can cause a baby to be more likely to have more trouble breathing, eating, and maintaining a normal and steady body temperature. This obviously limits the amount of contact his parents and other caregivers can have with him. It also makes it tougher to establish breastfeeding.

When labor is induced babies tend to stay in positions that make it harder to move down the birth canal. Also, because contractions are so much more painful, the need for an epidural (anesthesia to numb the pelvic area) increases. Both of these conditions can prevent a woman from effectively pushing her baby out, and so it can become necessary for the doctor to need to use forceps or vacuum extraction.

Increased risk of cesarean section (C-section)

If after her water is broken a woman isn't able to give birth vaginally, it will be necessary to deliver the baby via C-section. This is because once the amniotic sac is gone, the baby is more vulnerable to infection. A cesarean in an induced labor also is more likely if the baby is in a poor position for being born naturally or is in fetal distress.

Increased risk of jaundice

Jaundice is an inability of the liver to break down red blood cells. In newborns, it's caused when the baby's liver simply isn't yet mature enough to do this job. The result is an increase in the levels of bilirubin in the baby's blood, bringing a tell-tale yellow hue to his skin and the whites of his eyes. Jaundice isn't uncommon and it's treatable, but it can mean a longer stay in the hospital.

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