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 that your water (meaning the amniotic sac of fluid your baby floats in and is protected by) has broken—a situation that puts the baby at risk of infection.

Perhaps you've developed a condition such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes that can endanger your health or your baby's if you stay pregnant. In some cases, labor induction is scheduled because of a logistical, rather than a medical concern.

For example, maybe a 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. Sometimes induction is the best thing for a mother or her child. But it's not always necessary or best to rush things along. In fact, it can cause problems or even be unsafe.

5 Risks of Inducing Labor

Here are five risks of inducing labor worth knowing more about so you can talk more about them with your doctor and be prepared for what might come as a result of this procedure.

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 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 use forceps or vacuum extraction to help deliver the baby.

Increased Risk of 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 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 women who were induced at 39 weeks were not "more likely" to experience newborn complications such as stillbirth or newborn death.

Increased Risk of Needing Intensive Care for Preemies

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. However, it's important to know that preterm babies that are induced may need to go to the NICU. 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. A baby going to the NICU may be a stressful experience for new parents.

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 his skin and the whites of his 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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