Before we get started, I am completely opposed to inducing labor for non medical reasons due to the risks of induction for mom and baby. Being tired of pregnancy, being over 40 or even 41 weeks, suspecting a big baby or an impending holiday are all reasons that I personally would not consider legitimate enough to justify the very real risks of induction. If you are planning an induction for a non medical reason, please consider letting your baby come when he or she is ready. However, there are times where the risks of continuing the pregnancy outweigh the risks of an induction, and for the health of mom and baby it is necessary. To the mom facing a medically necessary induction, you don’t have to give up your birth! You can still be an active participant and have a positive birth! You are not a failure, you just might need to adjust your game plan.
There are many different ways in which labor can be induced. In my classes I cover 10 natural induction methods and 6 medical induction methods. Chances are my students will not need the information, but if they do then they can make informed decisions with their provider about what is best for them. I hope you have taken a truly comprehensive class that covers the pros and cons of these options, and you have a knowledgeable doula to help you… or you will have some late night researching to do. Briefly, medical induction usually begins with a cervical softener if your cervix is not already soft and dilating. Though less common in some areas, sometimes a Foley bulb is used to mechanically open the cervix up to 3cm. Some doctors choose to go straight to Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin that creates contractions. These contractions can be longer and harder than natural contractions, and that is one reason inductions are hard on mom and baby. Some doctors begin Pitocin after using a cervical softener or Foley bulb. There is also a pill that can be used called Cytotec, though because of the risk of uterine hyperstimulation and rupture, some doctors and midwives no longer use it. Take some time to research the risks and benefits of these options, one method will not be ideal for everyone. If you have that information, let’s get on to our survival guide!
You need an induction, first take a time out.
You have been preparing for this birth for 9 months, maybe longer. You might have very specific visions for your birth, like laboring at home and arriving at the hospital late in labor… or maybe you were planning a home birth and you are now having to transfer care. It’s ok to take a minute and be mad, or sad, or frustrated. For one of my births I gave myself from the doctor's office to my home to blast my favorite pity party song and cry and be super angry that I wasn’t going to have the birth I had originally planned. I just happen to do my best crying on the road but you do what you need to do. Get it out, and then collect yourself, because you can do this. You are already an awesome mom. You are making a hard decision for the health of you and your baby. You may have to induce your labor but you still have options and can still have a positive birth.
If you have time, revise your birth plan.
I was given less than 24 hours notice for my induction, though I managed to negotiate 2 more days so I could try to induce labor at home, and pull myself together. Chances are if your induction is medically necessary you will not have weeks to prepare, you may only have a couple days. If you have a birth plan, look it over. If you can do this with your provider, please do. You may have “no IV,” “intermittent monitoring,” or “use tub and shower,” and depending on your hospital's policies and the type of induction, these may no longer be negotiable. Pitocin is administered by IV, because of the risks associated with Pitocin, it’s very important that baby is being monitored continuously, and most hospitals do not have wireless, waterproof monitors so water may not be a tool available to you. It’s better to know this now, and make a new plan, than to be disappointed when you arrive. You may still be able to use other tools like movement, massage, counter pressure… and if your doula is skilled with a rebozo, peanut ball,
essential oils… yeah… you still have lots of options even if they were not a part of
your original birth plan.
Prepare for a long stay.
Inductions are usually a long process. Shame on the doctors who love to say, “We’ll have this baby by dinner time!” when a mom is checking in for a 7am induction. Sometimes this is the case, but not usually with first time moms and it does no one any good to be unrealistic. Inductions usually take a couple days. This is ok, you probably won’t be in active labor that long. The first day, or night, depending on when you begin your induction, will likely be spent with a cervical softener like Cervidil, or on a low dose of Pitocin. Even on maxed Pitocin sometimes contractions just don’t begin for a long time, 6, maybe 12 hours. So prepare for a lot of waiting. In the evening, have an eye mask and ear plugs so you can sleep. Bring your own pillows and blanket if you like, and it’s ok to ask the nurse for a medication to help you sleep. In the day, bring a book, magazines, cards if you like to play card games (I do!) and your laptop or tablet with some favorite shows and movies. Maybe arrange for a friend or family member who is supportive of your birth plan to come give you a pedicure if not much is happening. Maybe you WILL have a baby by dinnertime, but you might not so come prepared.
Induction Day: Celebrate!
Celebrate? What? Your whole birth just came crashing down around you! Well… no… it didn’t, you have looked over your options, you are prepared, and guess what… you are having your baby! This does call for a celebration. Inductions are best started in the evening, so request an evening appointment and make dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant. Relax at home before, take a long shower or bath and a nap if you can, maybe you and your partner can get a massage. Massage stimulates oxytocin! Go out to dinner and be sure to order something with plenty of carbs and protein. If you are an athlete you know how important carbs are for an endurance sport! If you aren’t… trust me… you will be burning lots of calories in labor and some doctors will not let you eat during your entire induction (though more on that later). This meal is important, but also enjoy it. You might not be eating out in a nice restaurant for a while. Toast (maybe with a little wine) the baby you will soon have in your arms!
Check in and pass out.
I mentioned sleep above, but I want to stress how important it is that you sleep as much as you can in the hospital before labor is established. This isn’t easy… nurses are in and out, it might feel like there is a cord attached to every limb, machines are beeping… but please try. If you are inducing in the morning (and you can request inducing in the evening) but had a restless night, nap once the nurse has you set up in your room and started your cervical softener or Pitocin. If you are over tired and anxious, this may make your labor more difficult and painful. Put in some ear buds with some relaxing music and zone out. If you have had a full night of sleep and feel energized, then choose a relaxing activity. This is not the time to be walking halls, save up your energy for once labor begins.
Now what might happen next?
Scenario 1: Labor begins!
Whoo hoo! You are having strong contractions with a great pattern! Your body was ready to have this baby and all it needed was a nudge in the right direction! Be in contact with your doula and decide together when she should arrive. If you can smile and talk through contractions, continue with the relaxing activity you have chosen, though try to remain upright and use movement occasionally. If your contractions require you to stop everything and focus, use movement, upright positions, and establish your rhythm. Tap into those tools you learned in birth class, but don’t exhaust yourself if you don’t truly need them yet. These contractions may be harder than you expected or saw in birth videos, there might not be breaks like you prepared for. Some women will need pain medications, but some women will still be able to have a natural birth. Both scenarios are ok, don’t be hard on yourself. If labor is well established, you can always ask for the Pitocin to be turned down, or turned off and be unhooked from the IV, to see if your contractions continue naturally. You can labor the way you planned to originally, work with your doula and partner to stay on track for a vaginal birth!
Scenario 2: Contractions begin, but you can’t feel them!
Sometimes during an induction contractions begin to show up on the monitor but mom doesn’t feel them. This happened for a full day for me on the maximum dose of Pitocin. Had I known this was possible I may have not had an embarrassing meltdown after 12 hours of not understanding what my body was doing. So, this can happen, it’s ok. Rest or do a relaxing activity. You might not begin to feel contractions for a while. Choose an upright position, hang out on your birth ball, use your doula’s peanut ball, this is all still normal!
Scenario 3: Approaching day 2 and still pregnant!
This is also ok! Hopefully you have been resting and passing the time with enjoyable activities and you are not exhausted (like I was). If labor has not begun, you can ask to be unhooked from Pitocin so you can walk around, have a hearty meal (send dad to get it, they probably won’t feed you in the hospital), and take a shower. If mom and baby are doing well and your water has not broken, ask if you can go home to recharge for a bit and return in the evening. The uterus is most receptive to oxytocin in the evening, so this is a great plan. THIS is when choosing a supportive provider will really pay off! It may feel like this will just delay meeting your baby, and while it might add a few hours to the whole process, it’s better to go into labor relaxed and energized than discouraged and exhausted. No one has ever been pregnant forever and you will not be the first.
Tips for a positive induction!
Keep your waters intact as long as possible.
Once the doctor breaks your water, you may be on the clock for a cesarean. It’s true that this can really kick up labor, but it can also cause baby to distress, a cord prolapse, maternal infection, or more painful contractions. There is a time and a place for it. I chose to induce my third child at 42 weeks and 2 days by just having my water broken with no medications. I was already 5cm and I weighed the risks and benefits. For me, it was right. For most moms, saying no to having their bag of waters ruptured will help them have a more positive induction experience, for some it will be the right decision. Weigh the evidence you have gathered prior to your induction and consult your doula during your induction.
Stay nourished and hydrated.
Many doctors will not allow a mom to eat or drink during an induction. This is a recommendation, no one can tell you that you cannot eat. Even though you are in the hospital, you are an adult with a right to fulfill your basic needs. I have heard nurses say “the doctor says you can’t eat, but there is a lot of time that I’m not in this room and what I don’t know won’t hurt me.” The fear is that should you need a cesarean under general anesthesia, which is very rare, you could possibly aspirate. This fear is not supported by evidence. Bring snacks, send your partner or doula out for light, easy to digest foods that will give you the energy you need to birth your baby. I personally have not asked permission to eat or drink since my first birth. I just do it, and I have not had a nurse say anything, even during an induction.
Use movement and position changes during your induction! Most of us have an image of a woman in a gown laboring in bed. Staying in one position in bed may prevent your baby from getting in an ideal position for birth. Some positions like squatting open your pelvis by up to 30%! Rock, sway, slow dance with your partner… even hooked up to an IV and monitors. Once those contractions begin you don’t want to exhaust yourself, but you also don’t want to be completely sedentary.
Never give up your birth.
This is my biggest regret in my first induction, and something I refused to do again. Often times when enough of a mom’s birth plan has been compromised she gives up on everything else. To every mom who desires a natural birth, I believe you can do it and I hope you do! However, even if you have an epidural, your whole birth is not lost! Once you have rested, or if you are fully dilated, ask them to turn it off. Get up in a squat using the squat bar and support from your partner and doula and bring this baby into the world on your own power! If baby is poorly positioned and needs to be turned with forceps or a vacuum, once baby is on your abdomen bring him or her up to your chest for skin to skin yourself! Even if your induction ends in cesarean, ask that the curtain be lowered and baby be brought straight to you. No matter what happens, this is still your birth and a day that you will cherish.
I hope this post helps to make what might be a scary experience a more positive one. I would love to hear what has helped other mothers through their inductions or what doulas have found helped their clients!