When It’s OK to Induce Labor, and When It’s Not

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

One in five pregnant women will have her labor induced, for varying reasons. Some of these reasons are valid; others are not. Catherine Beier of www.givingbirthnaturally.com weighs in.

When it’s OK to induce labor:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions in the mother – These may include heart disease, a seizure disorder, hypertension, cancer, or another serious health issue, although many women with these disorders can still give birth vaginally.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions in the baby – If the baby is known to have a congenital or other medical condition that requires intervention or intensive care immediately after birth, induction may be the safest way to ensure the baby gets the care that’s needed.

And when it’s not OK to induce labor:

  • Overdue pregnancy – While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warn against induction before 39 weeks, the average pregnancy worldwide lasts 42 weeks. For medical doctors who don’t want to wait that long, they should consider accuracy of a woman’s due date, which is calculated on a 28-day menstrual cycle with ovulation on day 14; for women with long or irregular cycles or late ovulation, this due date can be significantly inaccurate. For these women, a reliable estimate of the due date, within one day, can be obtained with a transvaginal ultrasound at eight to ten weeks of gestation. As the pregnancy progresses, ultrasound becomes a less reliable predictor of the due date, as the weight estimate can be off by as much as two pounds.
  • The baby is too big – The vast majority of women are able to give birth vaginally to their babies, even those who are larger. Because hormones during labor relaxes and stretches the hips and pelvis, for those very few whose pelvis is too narrow to birth a full-term baby, it’s impossible to know until the time of childbirth.
  • The mother is too tired or uncomfortable – Remember, it’s called labor for a reason. Labor can be rather long and hard with the first baby especially, but it is normal.
  • It’s more convenient to know when the baby will be born – Whether induction on a certain day is better for the baby’s family or the medical provider, this does not take the baby into account and not a true reason.

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