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Inducing Labor

In some situations, a woman and her doctor may decide to induce her labor, instead of allowing it to start naturally. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 20 percent of labors are started artificially, and that percentage is increasing every year. Labor may be induced for medical reasons if the mother's or baby's health is at risk, while elective inductions are performed for non-medical reasons such as convenience or the mother's comfort. There are risks associated with both necessary and elective inductions and you should learn all the facts and discuss the procedure with your doctor before deciding to induce your labor.

Your labor may be induced for medical reasons when:

  • The risks of continuing the pregnancy are greater than the risks of delivering the baby right away.

  • The baby is two weeks past an accurate due date.

  • Your bag of waters breaks but labor doesn't start on its own within a reasonable amount of time.

  • You have previously had a full-term stillbirth.

  • The baby isn't thriving or growing in the uterus.

  • Tests indicate that the placenta is no longer functioning at its best and the uterus is no longer a healthy environment for your baby.

  • You have a chronic or acute illness such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, preeclampsia, or diabetes that threatens your health or the health of your baby.

Labor may be induced using natural and synthetic methods. The method your doctor uses to induce labor will depend on the condition of your cervix at the time. If your cervix has not started to soften, efface, or dilate, your doctor will use hormones or other methods to ripen your cervix before inducing. Some of the most common methods are:

  • Artificially rupturing the membranes (bag of waters). This method causes no more discomfort than a vaginal exam and is usually very effective. Synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) is often given to help when your membranes are ruptured artificially. However, labor may not begin for a long time, or not at all with this method. Rupturing the membranes can cause fetal distress and increase the likelihood of a cesarean section delivery, and it may also cause umbilical cord prolapse.

  • Stripping the membranes. In this method, the doctor separates your bag of waters from your cervix to stimulate prostaglandin release and promote cervical ripening. This procedure has been shown to be effective in stimulating labor. It is not intended to break your water; however, it may. It may also cause infection and may be painful.

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