Does Inducing Labor Pose any Threats to Mother?

woman on hospital bedInducing labor is an increasingly common practice in modern medicine, particularly in the United States. Certain interventions exist that help the labor and delivery process. In some cases, these interventions are necessary, even vital to protecting the life of the mother or the baby. On the other hand, some labor inductions are purely for the sake of convenience or to accommodate busy schedules.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists holds that the induction of labor is appropriate only when it’s riskier to not intervene – in other words, when it’s safer for a baby to be born rather than remain in the uterus. The induction of labor can be risky to both mother and baby. Artificially starting the birthing process can lead to serious consequences such as maternal injury or death.

Methods of Inducing Labor

Numerous methods of inducing labor exist. Prostaglandins, for example, are suppositories that a provider places in a woman’s vagina to induce labor within 24 hours. As one of the least invasive methods of induction, it’s also one of the safest.

One of the most common medications used for inducing labor is using an IV medicine called Pitocin. It’s a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, which the body naturally releases during labor to stimulate contractions and dilate the cervix. Though it’s a commonly used drug, it also presents serious risks to the mother, including:

  • Stronger, more violent contractions
  • Increased pain with contractions
  • Increased risk of contracting certain infections
  • Placental abruption
  • Uterine rupture
  • Increased risk of requiring a cesarean section

Pitocin contractions depend largely on the dose, but it generally produces stronger contractions than would occur naturally. While this can hasten the labor and delivery process, it can also create the potential for maternal injury, particularly if a mother has weak uterine muscles.

Last, providers may induce labor by artificially breaking the waters, or rupturing the membranes. This can help the mother go into labor naturally, but also carries a degree of risk. Breaking the waters may force the baby into the breech position, which can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia. Too much time between breaking the waters and the delivery of the fetus can also increase the risk of infection. If the labor does not progress quickly enough, mothers face the prospect of cesarean delivery, an invasive medical procedure.

When Should a Provider Induce Labor?

It’s important to realize that labor induction is only necessary when failure to intervene poses a risk of harm to a mother or her child. Possible scenarios include:

  • Health conditions that affect the health of the mother such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood clotting disorders, or heart disease
  • Pregnancies exceeding 42 weeks gestation, as the placenta begins to deteriorate
  • The presence of a maternal infection of the amniotic fluid called chorioamnionitis
  • Umbilical cord abnormalities that affect the baby’s ability to get nutrients
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
When is Inducing Labor Unnecessary?

It’s considered a deviation from a standard of care to induce labor for issues that do not directly affect the health of the mother or the baby. Inducing labor for the purpose of personal convenience, for example, is inappropriate and may lay the groundwork for provider negligence. Health care providers should never induce labor to accommodate busy schedules, on the part of the provider or the mother.

When a labor induction does lead to a complication, the consequences can be devastating. Uterine rupture, for example, can prove life-threatening to the mother. Without timely surgical intervention, a mother may hemorrhage or lose her ability to bear more children. In a worst-case scenario, she might even lose her life. Physicians must weigh the risks and benefits of induction and make the best choice for the patient and her baby.