Pregnancy and you blog

Induced labor: Making an informed decision

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. December 16, 2011

Ideally, labor begins naturally. Sometimes, though, induced labor can be the answer to your prayers. You might be one to two weeks past your due date, or the baby might have stopped growing as expected. Perhaps you have high blood pressure. The decision to induce labor usually comes down to the fact that you or the baby will be better off if the baby is on the outside.

If your cervix is firm, the induction might start with a process called ripening. You might be given oral medication to help your cervix prepare for labor, or your health care provider might place medication in your vagina. In other cases, a device — such as a catheter — might be placed in your vagina to soften your cervix. If your cervix has already begun to prepare for labor, ripening might not be needed.

The next phase of induced labor is intravenous medication — usually oxytocin (Pitocin) — to jump-start your contractions. The medication is delivered through a pump at a specific rate and amount. Over time, the dose is increased until your contractions are regular, frequent and causing changes in your cervix.

Induced labor is meant to mimic naturally occurring labor as much as possible. Expect contractions to start slowly, gradually gaining intensity and frequency. Those first hours of induction might be somewhat boring, as the medication forces your body to do something it wasn't ready to do on its own. You might watch a few movies, knit a baby blanket, or visit with friends and family. Once the contractions become frequent and more painful, you might need to turn all of your attention to working with the contractions.

Inducing labor isn't without risks and shouldn't be taken lightly. If your body isn't ready for labor, the benefits of induction must clearly outweigh the risks. Discuss it with your health care provider and work together to make an informed decision. Don't hesitate to ask questions — and continue asking until you're sure you understand the situation and you're comfortable with the decisions being made.

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Dec. 16, 2011