It’s the due date, and your baby shows no signs of coming any time soon. A week goes by, then two. Finally, your doctor suggests inducing labor either through physical intervention or labor-inducing drugs. While these methods can guide your pregnancy to its end, it’s also important to understand the dangers of induced labor.
Generally, there are two types of direct, minorly invasive procedures to help move labor along. Both methods of physical intervention take only a few minutes and are typically done at your OBGYN’s office.
Stripping the Membrane
If you’re past the due date and labor hasn’t started yet, your doctor may try to strip the membrane. This consists of them inserting a gloved finger through the cervix and gently removing the membrane connecting the uterus to the amniotic sac (where the baby is).
In most cases, this will trigger the natural production of prostaglandin, the hormone responsible for cervical dilation. If that does not happen, the doctor may either opt for breaking water or a c-section.
In either case, stripping the membrane is typically very low risk, though some women report discomfort, bleeding, or menstrual cramps afterward.
If your cervix has begun dilating, but your water hasn’t broken, your doctor may want to break it artificially. This consists of using a small plastic hook to go past the cervix and break the membrane. This usually causes labor to start shortly after if it hasn’t already.
Breaking water artificially (also called an amniotomy) is a little risker. It sometimes leads to a more painful labor, which can lead to more pain medications. Additionally, the baby may not be in position during the procedure, which can increase the risk of a breech birth or a cord prolapse (when the umbilical cord comes out first).
While these dangers are rare, it’s important that parents be informed about the risks before agreeing to any labor induction technique.
If labor will not start spontaneously or if it comes to a halt, your doctor may opt for labor-inducing drugs. Generally, there are two kinds, and both represent greater risks than either method of physical intervention.
Remember that stripping the membrane is meant to produce prostaglandin? If that doesn’t happen, doctors may use a synthetic gel form and apply it directly to the cervix. This causes the cervix to ripen and become thinner, making it easier for the baby to pass through.
Though complications from Prostaglandin gel are rare, risks may include abnormal contractions or even uterine rupture. If that happens, doctors must act quickly to control the bleeding and get the baby out as soon as possible, usually with an emergency C-section.
Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for contractions. While this drug is effective at moving labor along, it must be used very carefully.
If too little Pitocin is used, the contractions may not be strong enough to move the baby along. If too much is used, the contractions can be so powerful that they injure the baby as it moves through the birth canal. This is especially frightening because Pitocin is used in roughly 20% of U.S. births.
Too much Pitocin doesn’t just put the baby in danger; it poses a potentially life-threatening risk to the mother. As with prostaglandin, the abnormally powerful contractions caused by this drug can lead to uterine rupture, but it may also cause excessive postpartum hemorrhaging. That’s especially dangerous if the mother has irregular blood pressure as it could lead to maternal mortality.
If your doctor suggests induced labor, it’s important that you be prepared and understand the procedure and the risks associated with them. And if those procedures injure you or your baby, consider calling an experienced birth injury attorney as soon as possible.
If your child was diagnosed with a birth injury, we are here for you. To schedule a free case consultation with an experienced Atlanta medical malpractice attorney from The Mabrey Firm, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (404) 814-5098 or send us an email.