Induced labour: What is it and what are the risks?

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 2 mins read
Induced labour: What is it and what are the risks?

Whilst most women naturally go into labour between 37 and 41 weeks, this isn’t always the case, and around 1 in 3 women will need to be induced with medical intervention. The reasons for this may vary but may be due to health concerns or fear of complications or because they have surpassed 41 weeks pregnant with no signs of natural labour occurring.

What is induced labour?


Induced labour is when the natural labour process – contractions, cervix dilation, waters breaking – are started artificially, either through a manual procedure or medication.

Induced labour is typically recommended when:


  • You are overdue
  • Your health is at risk – eg high blood pressure, diabetes etc
  • Baby is at risk or in distress
  • Your waters have broken but labour has not progressed
  • You are having twins or multiples

Induction is not always an option, however, and in some cases, you may have to undergo a caesarean section instead.


What are the risks of induced labour?


  • Despite your doctors attempting to induce labour, in some cases, it may not work and you will end up having to have a caesarean section
  • The baby may go into distress and their heart rate may drop
  • You or your baby may have a reaction to the medication
  • Induction may make the pain of contractions more intense in some cases, although this is not proven
  • Higher rate of epidural use amongst women who have been induced

However you must also weigh up the risks of not being induced, these are best discussed with your doctor in relation to your personal circumstances.


What are the different options for inducing labour?


Stretch and sweep


This involves the midwife or doctor manually disrupting the amniotic sac with a finger in the hope of separating it from the cervix and getting labour happening naturally. This is a relatively painless and low-risk procedure, but it is not guaranteed to work.

Breaking your waters (Artificial Rupture of Membranes – ARM)


This is via a procedure called an amniotomy, which is when your doctor or midwife uses a thin plastic hook to make a small opening in the amniotic sac and release the fluid.

Oxytocin


A synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin is administered via a drip in the hopes of kick-starting contractions.

Prostaglandin


A synthetic version of the hormone prostaglandin is inserted into the vagina to soften the cervix.

Cervical ripening balloon catheter


A small tube or catheter with balloons on the end is inserted into your cervix and inflated with saline. The balloons are meant to apply pressure to the cervix to help it soften and open. It will then stay in place for up to 15 hours before you will be examined again.

As always, you should speak with your doctor about which methods they believe are best suited to you and your baby to help you make the right decision.


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