Risks of Inducing Labor

5 Things to Know Before You Are Induced

Pregnant woman laboring in hospital bed holding man's hand

Layland Masuda / Getty Images

If you're pregnant, there are a number of reasons your obstetrician might try inducing labor—stimulating your uterus to begin having contractions 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, perhaps your water has broken, but you're not having contractions. This puts your baby at risk of infection. Conditions such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes can endanger your health or your baby's and require induction.

In some cases, labor induction is scheduled because of a logistical concern. For example, maybe a parent-to-be lives far from the hospital and it would be risky to wait until they go into labor to make the trip. This is called elective induction.

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5 Risks of Inducing Labor

Sometimes induction is the best thing for a pregnant person or their child. But it's not always necessary. I's important to be informed about the risks and discuss your condition with your doctor for individualized advice.

Increased Risk of Complications

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 (such as abnormal heart rate). In addition, when labor is induced using medication, labor may take longer.

Increased Risk of Interventions

When labor is induced, babies tend to stay in positions in the uterus that make it harder to move down the birth canal. Also, because contractions are often more painful, the need for epidural anesthesia increases. Both of these can make effective pushing more difficult, leading to interventions like forceps or vacuum extraction.

Increased Risk of C-Section

One method of induction is breaking the amniotic sac. If this doesn't promptly start contractions and allow for a vaginal birth, the doctor will need to deliver the baby via C-section. A Cesarean is also more likely if the baby is in a poor position for being born vaginally or is in fetal distress.

However, research published in 2018 suggests that inducing labor at 39 weeks might actually reduce the likelihood that a C-section is needed. In fact, it was found that infants born to people who were induced at 39 weeks were not "more likely" to experience newborn complications such as stillbirth or newborn death.

Increased Need for Intensive Care

Sometimes, babies born prematurely via induction need to go the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for special care, but this is not because of the induction; it's due to the preterm birth. Being born even a week or two early can cause a baby to have trouble breathing, eating, and maintaining a normal and steady body temperature.

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 telltale yellow hue to the skin and the whites of the eyes.

One study published in 2017 found that using oxytocin during labor was associated with higher bilirubin levels—but only on the second day after birth. The authors say more research is necessary to draw any strong conclusions. Jaundice isn't uncommon and it's treatable, but it can mean a longer stay in the hospital.

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5 Sources
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  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Labor induction. Updated September 2017.

  2. Lothian JA. Saying “no” to inductionJ Perinat Educ. 2006;15(2):43-45. doi:10.1624/105812406X107816

  3. Grobman WA, Rice MM, Reddy UM, et al. Labor induction versus expectant management in low-risk nulliparous women. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(6):513-523. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1800566

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for a premature baby: What parents need to know. Updated October 31, 2019.

  5. Seyedi R, Mirghafourvand M, Osouli Tabrizi S. The effect of the use of oxytocin in labor on neonatal jaundice: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Pediatr. 2017;5(12):6541-53. doi:10.22038/ijp.2017.26526.2277