For the best possible outcome for the baby, it is important for a woman to maintain her pregnancy as long as safely possible. Doing so allows for continued fetal brain, liver, and lung development, and weight gain.
March of Dimes note that infants born after 39 weeks are less likely to experience complications such as vision and hearing problems, not being able to keep warm, and feeding difficulties.
Why might some pregnancies need to be induced?
Pregnancies are categorized by set time frames. Early and late births may result in complications.
Term pregnancies are split into four categories defined by the week of gestation. These categories include:
- Early Term: Delivery after 37 weeks through 38 weeks and 6 days
- Full Term: Delivery after 39 weeks through 40 weeks and 6 days
- Later Term: Delivery after 41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days
- Post-term: Defined as any pregnancy lasting past week 42
Pregnancies lasting longer than 2 weeks past the due date may lead to delivery complication. This is due to the increasing size of the fetus and the risk of the baby inhaling fecal waste. The aging of the placenta in the post-term period may also lead to problems with the fetus.
In some situations, it may be recommended to induce, or bring on labor. However, it is important to discuss the risks, benefits, and actual need for the intervention. Some instances in which labor induction may be recommended include:
- Maternal or fetal health concerns
- Approaching post-term date
- No labor despite water breaking
- Infection in the uterus
- Delayed fetal growth
- Low levels of amniotic fluid
- Separation of the placenta from the uterine wall
- Certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, diabetes, kidney disease, or others considered to be a risk to the baby
Another reason that may require an induced pregnancy is if problems arise due to Rh factors.
Rh factor is a protein that can sometimes be found in the blood. Most people have this protein and are Rh positive as a result. People who do not have this protein are Rh negative. If the fetus is Rh positive and the mother is Rh negative, problems can occur.
Typically, maternal and fetal blood does not mix during pregnancy. However, there are certain times in which this can occur, causing the mother to develop antibodies against the Rh factor of the fetus.
How is labor induced?
If labor induction is recommended, a woman's healthcare provider will use certain medications and procedures to bring on labor. These procedures include cervical ripening, breaking of the amniotic sac, and the use of oxytocin.
Doctors may use naturally occurring chemicals called prostaglandins to try and soften and thin out the cervix to encourage cervical stretching. Prostaglandins are delivered to the cervix through the vagina or in the form of an oral medication.
To encourage contractions, doctors may use the hormone oxytocin to bring them on and induce labor. Stripping the membranes helps to release prostaglandins to induce labor. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the doctor or midwife will "sweep" over the membranes connecting the amniotic sac to the uterine wall.
In some cases, the healthcare provider may recommend bursting the amniotic sac covering the baby within the uterus to get labor started or to progress labor that has already begun. This process is called an amniotomy.
Risks associated with labor induction
As with any procedure, there are risks associated with labor induction. These risks include:
- Strong, frequent contractions that can lead to fetal complications such as increased heart rate and umbilical cord complications
- Maternal or fetal infections
- Torn uterus
- Risk of needing a cesarean delivery
- Fetal death
Natural ways to induce labor
At times, women may seek out natural or nonmedical ways to induce labor at home. It is vital to the health and well-being of the mother and baby that this is discussed with a doctor or midwife to be sure it is a safe alternative.
Many of these natural methods lack strong evidence that they are safe or effective. Some natural methods include:
Sex may help people to induce labor, possibly due to the release of oxytocin.
- Relaxation and visualization: Techniques such as guided imagery or self-hypnosis may be effective in some women.
- Nipple stimulation: Nipple rolling or gentle rubbing may induce labor by releasing the hormone oxytocin.
- Sex: Labor induction from sex may be related to uterine contractions from orgasm, oxytocin release, and the presence of high levels of prostaglandins in semen. Sex is not advised for women with broken waters, a low placenta, or vaginal bleeding.
- Homeopathy and herbs: Some herbs and homeopathic remedies may be used. It is important to speak with a registered homeopathic practitioner for information and guidance.
- Exercise: Some women may experience labor induction by taking a light walk. Exercise may induce the release of oxytocin and use gravity to move the baby into the pelvis.
- Food: There is only anecdotal evidence that certain foods, such as spicy foods, may induce labor. Some spicy foods may even slow the process of labor down due to the release of a substance called capsaicin. It is important that people speak with their doctor or midwife about the recommendations of labor induction and the associated risks and benefits.