Labor induction or inducing labor is when your doctor stimulates uterine contractions during pregnancy to achieve a vaginal birth before labor begins on its own. There are a number of reasons that may call for induced labor but mostly it’s when there's a concern for your health or that of your baby.
There was a time when doctors used to induce labor often. Today, it's not usually done unless there's a true medical need for it. Your doctor will most likely recommend allowing labor to take its natural course. However, in some situations, a health care provider may recommend induction.
Why Labor Induction is Done
Your doctor might suggest an induction if:
- Your water broke but you are not having contractions
- Your baby still hasn't arrived by 2 weeks after the due date (more than 42 weeks into your pregnancy)
- You have an infection in the uterus (chorioamnionitis)
- You have certain risk factors like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure
- There is not enough amniotic fluid
- There is a problem with the placenta
- The baby is not growing appropriately
While some mothers request an induction for convenience, it may come with risks. The main reason your doctor may want to avoid inducing labor is that your due date may be wrong or your cervix might not be ready yet. Just like natural labor, induction may take longer for you if it’s your first baby. Induction of labor usually – but not always – works.
How to Induce Labor the Right Way
There is no scientific proof to show that drinking alcohol can help in inducing labor. The only known and safe ways for your doctor to do it include the following:
Stripping the membranes. Your doctor will put on a glove, insert a finger into the vagina and through the cervix (the opening that connects the vagina to the uterus). They will be trying to separate the thin membrane connecting the amniotic sac (which houses the baby and amniotic fluid) to the wall of the uterus by moving the finger back and forth.
Once the membranes are stripped, your body releases hormones called prostaglandins. This helps prepare the cervix for delivery and may bring on contractions. Although this method works for some women, it’s not always effective.
Cervical balloon. Your doctor will insert a small flexible catheter into your cervix. A balloon is inflated there, which helps to dilate your cervix. It may be kept in for 12 hours or until it falls out. This is a great option for you if you previously had a cesarean birth.
Breaking your water. Also called an amniotomy, this procedure involves your doctor rupturing the amniotic sac during a vaginal exam. Usually, they will use a little plastic hook to break the membranes. If your cervix is ready for labor, amniotomy usually brings on labor in a matter of hours.
Giving the hormone prostaglandin to help ripen the cervix. Your doctor may choose to insert prostaglandin into the vagina in the form of a gel or give you a tablet by mouth. This procedure is often done overnight in the hospital to ripen your cervix (making it softer and thinned out) for delivery.
Giving the hormone oxytocin to stimulate contractions. Your doctor may also choose to give the drug Pitocin (oxytocin injection) continuously through an IV. Oxytocin is also frequently used to spur labor that's going slowly or has stalled. It’s started in a small dose and then increased until labor is progressing well. Contractions usually start about 30 minutes after oxytocin is given.
The Risks Involved
Elective labor induction isn’t always best for your baby. If it’s done before you are at least 39 weeks along in your pregnancy (one week away from your due date), or before your cervix is ready, the following risks are involved:
- Your baby is 2 to 3 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care. This will mean a longer and more difficult hospital stay for your baby. It may also make it harder for the two of you to breastfeed or bond.
- Your baby may have trouble breathing and need to be connected to a breathing machine (ventilator) to help her breathe.
- Your baby may have trouble maintaining body temperature and need to spend time in a warming area (incubator) to keep her body temperature stable.
- Your baby may have severe jaundice.
- Your baby also has a higher chance of having cerebral palsy, which can affect movement, hearing, seeing, thinking, and learning.
- You may develop postpartum depression.
Drinking Alcohol to Induce Labor
Scientific evidence has established that alcohol can cross the placenta to the fetus to affect an infant’s development. However, many women continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy. The behavior should be totally discouraged as it leads to various lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. Your doctor may call them fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Signs and symptoms include:
- Learning disabilities
- Difficulty with attention
- Speech and language delays
- Low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Preterm delivery
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Birth defects resulting in cardiac, skeletal, skin, renal and other urogenital abnormalities
- Low birth weight
- Postnatal growth retardation
- Cognitive, neurological, and behavioral disorders
If your child is born with FASDs, they can also have problems with their organs, including the heart and kidneys.
There Is No Safe Amount of Alcohol to Drink During Pregnancy
There is also no safe time to drink when you are pregnant. Any type of alcoholic drink, including wine, can cause problems for your developing baby throughout your pregnancy. Damage can be done even before you know you are pregnant.
When you drink alcohol, so does your baby. Alcohol in your blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. This is not good, as your baby’s brain, body, and organs are developing throughout pregnancy and can be affected by exposure to alcohol at any time. Because every pregnancy is different, drinking alcohol may hurt one baby more than another.
Even if your cervix shows signs of being ready, it’s safer to allow labor to happen on its own. Natural labor is usually easier and shorter than induced labor. If your body is not ready, delivery from induced labor is less likely to go smoothly. It may even increase the risk of having a C-section, especially if this is your first time. Spare your baby the need to have intensive care after delivery.