The Risks and Benefits of Labor Inductions

Risky Business

Some doctors admit that liability concerns may also be fueling the induction rate increase. With research suggesting new indications for induction, and more patients requesting them, obstetricians fear being sued if they don't induce and something goes wrong later.

Medical technology has also advanced to make inductions more successful. Cervical ripening agents -- drugs that prepare the cervix for birth -- have revolutionized labor induction. Now doctors can attempt induction even in a woman with a thick, closed cervix (the cervix must thin and open in preparation for labor). And with new, cheap, and easy-to-use drugs available, cervical ripening has become more common.

But even with these advances, there are still risks. Besides doubling your chances of a cesarean, research shows that induction drugs cause longer, more intense contractions that can interfere with oxygen delivery to the baby, leading to fetal distress. Induced babies are more likely to pass meconium (bowel movement) during labor, which can cause lung problems if inhaled. They also have increased rates of newborn jaundice and are more likely to need specialized care after birth.

In addition, if a baby is induced before term, he has the risk of complications that come with prematurity. When Sue Romanowski's third child, Jacob, was induced at 37 weeks due to pregnancy complications, he had difficulty breathing, spent the night in an incubator, and was almost transferred to intensive care. "It was a horrible experience," says the Mayville, Wisconsin, mom.

Labor induction is risky for mothers as well. Overstimulation of the uterus; excessive bleeding after birth; uterine rupture (a tear in the uterus), especially if you've had a previous c-section; and even death are possible.

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