Overdue and desperate for labour to start? Our midwife explains why and when you could be induced
I recently went to visit a mum who was a few days overdue. “Can’t you just induce me?” she asked. As a midwife and mum, I totally understand the frustration of wanting your little one to arrive and your pregnancy aches and pains to be a thing of the past, but unfortunately induction isn’t something you can request or something that we can just do.
You might have heard from your mother about a spoonful of castor oil being given to move things along when a woman was overdue, but induction is actually a medical procedure which can take a few days. So I prescribe a dose of patience as you read on…
A normal pregnancy lasts between 37 and 42 weeks. Research shows there can be increased health risks to the baby after 42 weeks of pregnancy, so induction is advised after 41 weeks, aiming for the birth before 42 weeks.
Some women opt to hold out longer than 42 weeks, but doctors will want to do twice weekly monitorings of your baby’s heartbeat, and also a scan to check the amount of fluid around him. The reality is, though, that by 42 weeks, most women are more than ready to give birth.
It’s completely normal to feel fed up, tired and uncomfortable towards the end of pregnancy, but that’s not a good enough reason to induce labour. “I asked my midwife if I could be induced at 37 weeks as I was fed up of not sleeping. She laughed and said ‘What makes you think you’ll be able to sleep once your baby’s here?’. I hadn’t really thought of it like that,” says Karen Harvey, 21, from Blackpool, 39 weeks pregnant.
If labour is induced too early it can cause some breathing problems for your baby. Some baby's lungs aren’t fully functioning until 39 weeks, as they develop last.
There’s no set time for an induction to kick in. Some women respond immediately to the prostaglandin and have a baby in their arms within a few hours. On the other hand, the process can take several days, depending on what pain relief is used, whether or not you respond to the hormones and if the induction is successful.
For some women the induction doesn’t work, particularly if their baby isn’t due yet, because their body just isn’t ready to go into labour. When that happens it’s time for a caesarean section.
For Sally Wall, 28, from Warwick, it was a long wait to meet her baby. She explains: “Because my husband’s in the army and was due to go abroad, the doctor agreed to induce labour once I reached my due date. From first arriving at the hospital, it was 80 hours before Joel was finally born by c-section.”
Stretch and sweeps are more uncomfortable than painful – think along the lines of a smear test. Induction is also thought to lead to a more painful labour as often there isn’t the gradual build-up that women get when they labour naturally. Because of this, women are more likely to need an epidural and also more likely to need help with birthing their baby.
Over a third of women will end up having a forceps, ventouse or a c-section delivery after being induced. It’s important that you’re comfortable so speak up if you think you need stronger pain relief. The induction process shouldn’t carry on until your pain is manageable.
Only around 20% of women are actually induced
1. If you’re very overdue, as there can sometimes be increased health risks to the baby after 42 weeks of pregnancy.
2. If there’s a medical reason, usually if you have high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.
3. If your waters have broken but your labour hasn’t started, knownas pre-labour rupture of membranes. You’ll have the option of waiting 24 hours to see if labour starts of its own accord, or being induced straight away.
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