Medical providers need to follow standards of care to avoid injuries.
While a mother's body usually starts the labor process on its own, it's not uncommon to need additional help. Roughly a quarter of births in the United States are induced — meaning a medical intervention is used to get labor started.
Labor induction is an appropriate medical tool in some circumstances, but it shouldn't be taken lightly. If induction is performed incorrectly or doctors and nurses fail to monitor the mother and baby for side effects, serious complications and permanent birth injuries can occur.
When is it necessary to induce labor?
Perhaps the best-known reason for labor induction is post-term pregnancy. Beyond 41 weeks, there is an increased risk of macrosomia (excessive birth weight) and oligohydramnios (not enough amniotic fluid), among other complications. Induction is usually medically indicated at 41 and a half weeks of pregnancy. In addition, if labor doesn't start soon after your water breaks (premature rupture of membranes), then labor may need to be induced earlier, between 37 and 40 weeks.
There are also several pregnancy complications that may mean inducing labor is the safest option for the mother and the baby, including but not limited to:
- Fetal growth restriction
- Gestational diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Placental abruption
Unfortunately, induction is sometimes also performed for nonmedical reasons — which exposes the mother and baby to unnecessary risk.
How do doctors induce labor?
There are several methods used to induce labor, including:
- Stripping the membranes: if the cervix is already dilated, the medical provider uses a finger to separate the amniotic sac from the uterus wall. This causes certain hormones to be released that can cause contractions.
- Ripening the cervix: doctors can use several ripening agents, such as prostaglandin to get the cervix ready for labor and help move things forward.
- Rupturing the membranes: the doctor uses a device to tear a hole in the amniotic sac (an amniotomy), essentially causing your water to break.
- Administering Pitocin: Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, the hormone the body uses to induce contractions during natural labor. Doctors typically administer Pitocin through an intravenous (IV) needle, usually starting slowly and increasing the dosage over time while carefully monitoring the mother's and baby's response.
What are the risks of inducing labor?
Again, while inducing labor is necessary in some circumstances, it's a significant medical intervention that should not be taken lightly. Some of the potential complications include:
- Infection: rupturing the membranes can increase the risk of infection for both mother and baby.
- Low fetal heart rate: Pitocin can cause very strong contractions that can constrict the supply of oxygen to the baby, lowering the heart rate and potentially resulting in the brain not getting enough oxygen.
- Induction complications: if doctors don't follow standards of care during the induction process, such as administering Pitocin when the cervix is underripe, labor may not progress, and an emergency C-section may be needed.
- Uterine rupture: use of Pitocin is associated with an increased risk of uterine rupture, a serious and potentially life-threatening complication.
- Medication errors: Pitocin is a powerful drug, and administering too much too quickly can cause violent contractions that have serious consequences for the mother and the baby.
- Postpartum hemorrhage: inducing labor can make it harder for the uterine muscles to contract again when labor is over, which can lead to significant bleeding after delivery.
This doesn't mean doctors shouldn't induce labor. On the contrary, there are many circumstances in which not inducing labor would endanger the mother and baby. However, doctors must explain the risks and potential side effects of inducing labor so the mother can make a fully informed choice. They also need to follow standards of care during and after induction, monitor the baby's heart rate, and intervene appropriately if there are any complications.
Victims of improperly induced labor have legal recourse.
Induction of labor is becoming more common, and it's important to hold medical providers accountable if they put mothers and babies at risk. If your child sustained a birth injury after labor was induced incorrectly, you may have legal recourse. Give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced attorney at the Lancione Law Firm.