One in five births in the United States is now begun by labor induction. With the increase in induced labors, inductions are now among the common fears a woman faces during her pregnancy. This makes the question, “what is a labor induction like?” a common one. As a mother of three young children, I understand this fear and uncertainty all too well. With my first baby, I was induced with pitocin, with my second I went into labor naturally, and with my third I was induced using cervidil. This article will attempt to address the common questions a mother has in regards to an induced labor including first hand experience with induced labors.
What is a labor induction and how is it done?
A labor induction is a process by which contractions are forced to occur through medication or other techniques with the goal of starting the labor process. There are several methods of inducing a labor that are in common use today including:
–Sweeping or stripping of the membranes to separate the amniotic sac from the uterine wall. This procedure is typically done at your doctors office. Your doctor simply uses his/her finger to separate the membranes.
–Dilation of the cervix using synthetic prostaglandins or using a water injected balloon to force dilation triggering the proper hormones naturally. Hormones may be applied to your cervix during an office visit to induce cervical dilation, or a special balloon like tool may be inserted into your cervix and then filled with water placing pressure on the cervix which may trigger the release of cervix ripening hormones. The most common method of this type is cervidil.-Intravenous oxytocin (a hormone that triggers contractions.) This procedure will be done at a hospital using an IV drip. This method is commonly called pitocin induction.
–Manual break of the bag of waters. This is also done at the hospital, your doctor will use a small hook to puncture your bag of waters.
In almost all cases, labor induction is successful and labor begins. With membrane stripping or cervical dilation techniques labor may take a few days to begin. If your bag of waters is broken, you must deliver within 24 hours.
Why would my labor be induced?
Your labor may be induced or your doctor may suggest induction if:
-You are past your due date (usually by at least a week or two)
-Your baby appears to be becoming to large
-Your bag of waters has broken, but your labor has not begun
-Your placenta is performing poorly or has separated from the uterine wall
-Your amniotic fluid is too low
-You have high blood pressure pregnancy or some other medical conditions that warrants need
-You’ve had a previous full-term still born birth
This is not an all inclusive list, these are however the most common reasons for labor inductions. Keep in mind, in many cases induction is your choice and may not always be necessary, such as if your baby is overdue but there are no health concerns.
What is being induced like?
I personally had my membranes stripped in my second labor, cervidil in my third, and in my first I had my bag of waters popped and was given pitocin in an IV drip.
The membrane stripping induction method was painless and done during a cervical check in my 41st week of pregnancy. It hurt no more than a dilation check. I went into labor naturally when my water broke a week later. This labor was long and quite painful.
In my first labor, I was 2 weeks over due as well and did not begin labor naturally. My amniotic fluid was low so they chose to attempt to induce. First, they broke my water. This was on par with a PAP smear in feeling and done in a similar way except the device is passed through the cervix and used to puncture the amniotic sac. I felt a light pinch and then the warm feeling of very little water in my case due to the low fluid levels. It was not painful, though a bit uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this form of induction failed to progress labor quickly enough so I was given a pitocin IV.
For a few hours, I felt nothing but anticipation and boredom, well and a very uncomfortable IV in my hand. Then the contractions began heavy and fast within 15 minutes, I was fully dilated and doubled over in pain. This is a common issue with pitocin labor induction, it triggers contractions that are too strong, and too fast the result was fetal distress, which resulted in an episiotomy.
Of all my labors, the cervidil labor induction was the fastest and least painful. Cervidil is most commonly given in a tampon-like or “card” application which is inserted near or in the cervix. This is not painful and again feels a lot like a PAP smear. In my case, my labor began rather quickly, but cervidil is not effective for everyone. In my opinion, for me, it shortened the dilation phase of my labor significantly. I was, however, already a week over due with a 10 lb baby.
None of the methods were painful or even complicated, however the contractions from the pitocin were far more painful than those I experienced in my other labors. There are a number of natural ways to induce labor that you can try to avoid medical induction as well.