Does Inducing Labor Pose any Threats to Baby?

The induction of labor is an artificial or medically assisted start to birthing a baby. In some cases, the medical induction of birth is necessary to protect the life of a mother or her baby. In other cases, however, induction of labor is elective. The American Pregnancy Association reports that the induction of labor is increasing due to its convenience and to accommodate busy schedules. However, it's the position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) that the induction of labor is indicated only when it is riskier for a baby to be in the mother's uterus than it is to be born.

The ACOG has this position because the induction of labor is not without risks. Artificially starting the birth process can pose a risk of harm to the mother and the baby.

How do Health Care Providers Induce Labor?

A few methods exist for beginning the labor process, but the most common is an IV drug called Pitocin. This synthetic form of oxytocin, which the body produces naturally to create contractions, helps move the labor process along by enhancing the tightening of the uterine muscles.

Though some find induction convenient, use of Pitocin carries certain risks to the baby. These risks include:

  • Changes in fetal heart rate
  • Increased risk of certain infections
  • Issues with the umbilical cord
  • Uterine rupture
  • Placental abruption
  • Premature separation of the placenta
  • Increased risk of required cesarean section

Pitocin can create more intense uterine contractions than what would be present naturally. If they become violent or too prolonged, they can cause injury in the neonate or one of the issues listed above.

Other methods of induction also exist. Prostaglandins are suppositories that go into the vagina and help induce labor within 24 hours. Additionally, providers may choose to break the waters, or rupture the membranes, that protect the baby and help the mother go into labor naturally. This too, has risks. For example, breaking the waters artificially may encourage the baby into the breech position, which has its own risks. It also increases the risk of a prolapsed umbilical cord. Last, an infection may occur if too much time elapses between the breaking of the membranes and the delivery of the baby.

When is it Appropriate to Induce Labor?

Certain instances make it necessary to induce labor to protect the health of the mother or the baby:

  • The presence of a maternal condition such as hypertension, preeclampsia, heart disease, vaginal bleeding during late pregnancy, or gestational diabetes
  • When the baby does not get enough nutrients from the placenta because of an umbilical cord abnormality
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM)
  • The pregnancy progresses past 42 weeks, which creates an increased risk of decreased nutrients from the placenta
  • The presence of a maternal infection called chorioamnionitis.
When is Inducing Labor Inappropriate?

Generally, it’s not good practice to induce the labor of a baby for issues that are not listed above. Several circumstances may exist that may put mother or baby in danger and necessitate an early delivery. However, inducing labor for someone’s convenience is not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous. Physicians should never induce labor to accommodate a personal schedule, whether it’s the patient’s or the provider’s.

When labor induction does lead to complications, they can be severe and long-lasting. Strong, violent contractions can lead to devastating consequences such as uterine rupture or placental abruption. Either of these conditions, among others, can lead to infant oxygen deprivation and conditions such as cerebral palsy. Providers must weigh the risks and benefits and make the best decision for the baby and mother regarding labor induction.