Induction of labor refers to stimulating labor to cause contractions before spontaneous natural labor begins. The term elective induction of labor is used when a woman undergoes stimulation of labor without a medical reason for doing so. A medical reason would include conditions that put the health or life of the mother or fetus at risk. Labor inductions are appealing for many reasons. First, they are convenient.
The prospect of organizing a birth into an already overbooked family or work schedule can be very tempting. Excitement about meeting the infant, stress, discomfort and even pressure from friends and family are other reasons women may schedule an induction of labor. Although these seem like justifiable reasons to have a baby on a predetermined date, it is important to remember that labor induction is a medical procedure that could have life-threatening risks for both the mother and fetus.
Many methods are used to induce labor. Understanding those methods is an important part of understanding the overall risks involved. The more common methods include rupturing the amniotic membranes surrounding the fetus— often referred to as "breaking water"—and the use of intravenous Oxytocin, a synthetic form of a naturally occurring hormone that is responsible for labor and breastfeeding.
Studies have shown that the risk of Caesarean section can be as much as two-fold higher for women undergoing induction of labor. This is especially true for first-time mothers. Other associated risks include fever, infection, rupture of the uterus, hemorrhage, blood transfusion and even death in rare instances. Fetuses may experience stress during the process. Fetal distress is an indication for Caesarean section.
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There are also health care costs associated with induction of labor. Women who undergo labor induction require more medical intervention, more equipment, more medications and usually have longer hospital stays. Because of this, some insurance companies are now refusing to pay for elective labor inductions.
Women considering an induction of labor should discuss it with their doctor or midwife. The discussion should include reasons induction might be appropriate, risks, benefits and what procedures will be used to stimulate labor. Women should have a clear understanding of the entire process before proceeding. It is important to remember that swollen feet and discomfort evident at the end of pregnancy are only temporary conditions and that the most desired outcome for any pregnancy is a healthy mother and a healthy baby.