Reasons for induction of labour including: Prevention of prolonged pregnancy over 42 weeks gestation Medical reasons e.g. pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes
*Induction may be offered before 24 hours
Your midwife or the doctors use the Bishop Score as a way of assessing the readiness of your body to respond to induction. The assessment involves an internal examination to feel the cervix (neck of the womb) and assess its “ripeness”.
A ripe cervix is soft, short, 2 or more cm dilated and is felt easily on examination. A ripe cervix scores more than 6 out of 10.
An unripe cervix is firm, more than 2 cm long, closed and cannot be easily felt. An unripe cervix scores less than 5 out of 10.
Induction succeeds more readily when the cervix is ripe.
Also known as “a cervical sweep”.
This is an aid to inducing labour rather than an actual method of induction.
A cervical sweep can encourage spontaneous labour in a woman whose cervix is beginning to ripen in late pregnancy. The cervix should be soft and slightly open. It may be suggested by your midwife when you reach term i.e. your due date at 40 weeks gestation. Doctors may suggest sweeps from 37 weeks gestation if there are medical reasons to encourage spontaneous labour.
Membrane sweeping involves passing a finger through the cervix to gently lift the membranes from the wall of the uterus just above the cervix. If the cervix is closed, massaging around the cervix high up in the vagina may achieve a similar effect.
You can request several sweeps after 40 weeks to encourage the onset of natural labour. The mucus plug is usually dislodged from the cervix by a sweep so it is normal to have a show afterwards i.e. passing blood-flecked mucus from the vagina. A sweep should not cause heavy bleeding.
If you have had an uncomplicated pregnancy with no medical or fetal reason for the induction you may be able to transfer to the Birth Centre once labour starts if that was your original plan. The cut off for Birth Centre labours is usually term + 13 days.
Examples include mothers aged 40 years or over who satisfy the criteria for Birth Centre delivery and low-risk mothers who are overdue.
Prostaglandins are hormones produced in the uterus. They are responsible for period pains in the non-pregnant woman and for the ripening of the cervix and onset of labour in a pregnant woman.
This is the preferred method of induction; prostaglandin can be given as a gel, tablet or controlled-release pessary in hospital.
When you arrive on the antenatal ward, your baby will be monitored for a short time to check that all is well. You will be advised to pass urine to empty your bladder.
The midwife will examine you internally to assess the Bishop score and this will determine the prostaglandin dose that you receive. The prostaglandin is inserted high into the vagina to stimulate softening and dilation of the cervix. Your baby will be monitored again for 20 minutes after insertion.
If you receive the gel or tablet form, you will be reassessed after 6 hours. If the cervix is still not ripe and you are not contracting, another dose of prostaglandin may be suggested. If a controlled-release pessary has been inserted, you will be reassessed after 24 hours.
If you are a low-risk patient and your obstetric unit provides Outpatient Induction, you may be allowed home after a short period of observation with instructions to return for assessment at a specified time if labour has not started.
All forms of prostaglandin can occasionally cause strong contractions after insertion. This is commoner in women who have had several babies and is called hyperstimulation. Medication to relax the uterus is prescribed for women who have received prostaglandin tablets or gel. The controlled-release pessary can simply be removed.
These methods are gaining popularity as more women have had a caesarean section and wish to attempt vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC). Use of prostaglandins or Syntocinon can increase the risk of uterine rupture so mechanical dilators such as Cook’s balloon and Dilapan-S avoid that risk.
These devices are inserted into the cervix. The Cook’s balloon is gently inflated in the cervical canal and Dilapan-S is a small rod containing a hydrogel which absorbs fluid when placed in the cervical canal. The resulting mechanical stretch stimulates the release of prostaglandins in the cervix which leads to softening and dilation.
If the prostaglandin softens the cervix so that the membranes can be felt by the midwife on vaginal examination, she may discuss the option of artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM) of the amniotic sac. You would normally be transferred to a labour ward room for this. ARM involves inserting a slender plastic hook into the vagina and through the cervix to pierce the membranes. ARM is easier if the cervix is very ripe. It can be uncomfortable and if so Entonox (a 50:50 mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide) may be offered as pain relief. You may experience a slight “popping” sensation followed by warmth as the fluid begins to drain out. The fluid usually looks clear, slightly yellowish or pink. Close surveillance or medical review may be needed if the fluid is green.
Once the membranes are ruptured, the risk of infection increases over time as vaginal microorganisms can now reach the uterus more easily. This is why ARM is recommended in early labour rather than as a first-line method of induction.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland; it is responsible for uterine contractions. Syntocinon is an artificial form of oxytocin. It is not a first-line induction agent but is used to bring on contractions after ARM if spontaneous contractions have not started within 2 hours.
Syntocinon is administered intravenously via a small tube or cannula usually in a forearm vein. The resulting uterine contractions quickly become stronger and more frequent so this usually hurts more than natural labour. The drug is dripped into the vein at a set rate which is slowly increased depending on the frequency of contractions. The aim is for the uterus to contract 3 – 4 times in 10 minutes to cause gradual dilatation of the cervix at 1 cm per hour.
In most obstetric units an epidural will be offered before starting Syntocinon. . Using Syntocinon after ARM will bring forward the time of birth but does not itself influence the mode of delivery.
Induced labours can take a long time to become established and are often more intense than a spontaneous labour. You may need to reconsider your chosen pain relief options in your birth plan. If you respond to prostaglandin alone, further intervention may not be necessary as you become established in labour. Simple methods with no drugs such as breathing and relaxation exercises, massage techniques carried out by your partner, TENS in the earliest stages and use of water if there are no medical reasons to prevent it, can all be used successfully.
If the pain is more intense you may need to consider medication.
Entonox is a 50:50 mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. It is inhaled via a tube or face mask to reduce the pain of contractions. It is effective but can cause nausea and lightheadedness. It is often more useful late in labour.
These are strong painkillers and include pethidine and diamorphine. They provided limited pain relief during labour and can cause significant drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. You baby may have short-lived respiratory depression and drowsiness which may last several days.
Epidural pain relief is provided by the labour ward anaesthetist. A small tube (cannula) is inserted into a forearm vein to deliver intravenous fluids via a drip, Another small tube (epidural catheter) is inserted between the bones of the lower back into the epidural space which contains cerebrospinal fluid. A dose of local anaesthetic is injected into the epidural space and this reduces contraction pain. Sensation is reduced over the abdomen and often the thighs. Top-up doses can be given by the midwife during labour to maintain an effective level of pain relief.
Continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate is needed with an epidural in place.
Caesarean rates with induction are greatly influenced by:-
Successful induction is commoner if the cervix is ripe with a Bishop score of 7 or higher.
Caesarean section is more likely if fetal compromise is the reason for induction as the baby may have less reserve to tolerate labour. Similarly, maternal illness such as pre-eclampsia will increase the risk of caesarean section.
Women having their first baby have up to a 50% chance of caesarean section.
Women who have had a baby before have a much lower risk of caesarean section after induction although the caesarean rate is higher than if they went into spontaneous labour.