Birth doesn’t always go to plan—but if you’re equipped with all the info before your due date arrives, it can help to ease anxiety over the unknown. Each year, one in five labours will be induced; here’s what you need to know about the common procedure.
If you’re overdue, your obstetrician or midwife might recommend labour induction—the process of utilising medications or natural methods to help give labour a little push (so to speak). The reason for inducing is that once a woman crosses the 42-week threshold, the placenta tends to ‘run’ down’, and does not adequately provide the nourishment and oxygen a baby needs. Labour could also be induced should there be extenuating complications; such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or issues concerning foetal development.
The key thing to remember is that induction is not a one-size-fits-all, so you may have to undergo a few different methods before the big L is triggered into action.
The process typically begins with a cervical sweep, involving a vaginal examination to try to separate the membranes in your uterus away from the cervix. The purpose is to stimulate the release of natural prostaglandin hormones to help kickstart labour. The success rate for sweeps is not high, but anecdotally, there’s positive evidence for expectant mums delivering around 48 hours after.
The next step is to administer an artificial accelerant called prostaglandin. Like your own natural prostaglandin hormones, this one softens and stretches the cervix to accommodate dilation. It can also bring on contractions. You’ll usually be given a tablet, pessary or gel containing the hormone, and its effects may begin within a few hours—or not at all. You may be given a repeat dosage after around six hours.
If contractions commence at this point, it’s a good sign—but the hormone wears off, and the contractions can disappear along with it. If your cervix has managed to dilate a bit, your midwife may suggest breaking your waters—a quick, mildly uncomfortable process that can also stimulate the release of natural prostaglandins to start up the contractions again.
If things still aren’t budging, with no resurgence of contractions, you may be given another hormone—oxytocin. It’s synthetic, but identical to your own natural version of the hormone. Administering is done via a drip, at very low levels, gradually increased every 10 to 15 minutes until the contractions are happening at three minute intervals (like normal labour).
Other options that don’t involve introduction of synthetic hormones include a Foley catheter or cervical ripening balloon.
Patience is a difficult virtue to sustain during the induction palaver—particularly if you’ve had to go through every one of the steps before things decide to move, but try to relax and treasure the last stretch of time when you’re this close to your baby!