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Problems and Hazards of
Induction of Labor
The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) is concerned about the dramatic increase and ongoing overuse of induction of labor. The U.S. induction rate has more than doubled since 1989, rising from one woman in ten to one woman in five in 2001.22 This may, however, grossly undercount the true incidence of labor induction. Nearly half of women in a 2002 survey reported that some effort had been made to start labor artificially.5 The World Health Organization recommends no more than a 10 percent induction rate.31 Despite modern techniques, induction of labor still introduces considerable risk compared with natural onset of labor, and many, if not most, inductions are done for reasons that are not supported w First-time mothers have approximately twice the likelihood of cesarean section with induction compared with natural onset of labor. This risk is due to the procedure itself, not any reason that might have led to inducing labor.9 Inducing labor at 41 weeks in a hypothetical population of 100,000 first- time mothers will result in somewhere between 3,700 and 8,200 excess cesareans and cost an extra $29 w Women who have had prior vaginal births may increase their chances of cesarean section five-fold if the cervix is not ready for labor, and they are given cervical ripening agents.26 Inducing 100,000 hypothetical women with prior births at 41 weeks will result in between 100 and 2,300 excess cesareans w All induction agents can cause uterine hyperstimulation (contractions too long, too strong, and too close together and higher baseline muscle tension).10 Uterine hyperstimulation can cause fetal distress.10 This means that, paradoxically, inducing labor because of concern over the baby’s condition may cause the very problem the induction was intended to forestall while the baby might have tolerated natural w Induction of labor involves the need for other interventions—IV drip, continuous electronic fetal monitoring, usually confinement to bed—that also can have adverse effects.
w Rupturing fetal membranes, a routine component of labor induction, can cause fetal distress and increases the likelihood of cesarean section.2,8,11 It may also precipitate umbilical cord prolapse (a life-threatening emergency for the baby in which the umbilical cord slips down into the vagina).7,19 Forty percent of all full term births involving cord prolapse were induced labors, rising to nearly 50% of births involving prolapse at 42 weeks or more.21 w Induced labors are usually more painful, which can increase the need for epidural analgesia.3 Epidurals introduce a higher probability of a host of adverse effects on the labor, the baby, and the w Women with prior cesarean sections have a slightly increased probability of the scar giving way with Pitocin (oxytocin) induction (8 per 1,000 vs 5 per 1,000 with spontaneous labor onset) and greatly increased risk when prostaglandins (24 per 1,000) are used for cervical ripening or induction.20 Prostaglandins include Cytotec (misoprostol), Prepidil (prostaglandin E2), and Cervidil (prostaglandin E2).
2003 by The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS). Permission granted to reproduce with complete attribution.
Problems and Hazards of
Induction of Labor
w Cytotec, although widely used as an induction agent, is neither formulated nor intended for use in labor. Cytotec’s manufacturer, Searle, has repudiated its off-label use as an induction/cervical ripening agent because of Cytotec’s attendant risks.27 w The FDA states that Cytotec’s major adverse effects include uterine hyperstimulation, which can become severe and result in profound fetal distress; uterine rupture; amniotic fluid embolism, which has a high maternal and infant mortality rate; severe genital bleeding; shock; fetal death; and maternal death.6 Other adverse effects include retained placenta, cesarean section, and passage of meconium (the baby’s first stool) into the amniotic fluid, which can cause a type of newborn pneumonia if w Cytotec is commonly believed to pose a life-threatening risk only in women with a uterine scar or with high doses. However, cases of maternal and infant death and hemorrhage requiring hysterectomy have been reported in women with no uterine scar, some of whom were given a minimal dose.13,28,30 w Cytotec dosage cannot be controlled because the drug is a small pill that must be cut in pieces.
w Once given, the drug cannot be rescinded or the dosage reduced in case of adverse effects.
w Cytotec does not decrease cesarean rates compared with prostaglandin E2, which is FDA-approved w Cytotec’s only advantages compared with prostaglandin E2 are much reduced cost and faster labors.16 Both benefit only hospitals and doctors as short labors are usually intense, tumultuous, and w Prostaglandin E2 can cause uterine hyperstimulation and fetal distress.18 Fetal distress can require w Prostaglandin E2 does not reduce excess cesareans associated with labor induction.18 w Unless the drug is formulated in a tampon (Cervidil), the drug cannot be rescinded or the dosage w Complications of oxytocin (Pitocin) include uterine hyperstimulation,25 which can lead to fetal distress; twice the chance of the baby being born in poor condition;15 postpartum hemorrhage;25 and greater probability of newborn jaundice.25 Rare, severe, maternal complications include uterine rupture and water intoxication leading to coma and death. Oxytocin may also cause brain damage 2003 by The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS). Permission granted to reproduce with complete attribution.
Problems and Hazards of
Induction of Labor
w Elective induction of labor, that is, induction for nonmedical reasons such as convenience, exposes babies and mothers to the hazards of induction with no counterbalancing benefit.
w Inducing labor for suspected big baby produces no benefits but increases the likelihood of cesarean section.12,29w No credible evidence supports inducing labor in women with gestational—as opposed to pre- w Routinely inducing labor for prelabor rupture of membranes does not reduce the incidence of newborn infection with the exception of women testing positive for Group B strep who do not receive w Inducing labor in women with Group B strep has not been shown to improve outcomes when antibiotics are given regardless of membrane status and is not part of the Centers for Disease Control w Studies claiming to support routine induction of labor at 41 weeks of pregnancy have serious flaws.23 No research supports routine induction at any earlier point in pregnancy; no sound research supports routine induction at any point in pregnancy.
w Proponents of inducing labor at full-term argue that the stillbirth rate and the rates of other newborn complications increase markedly after that date, but, in fact, these rates show no such increase.1,23 Induction at 41 weeks in a hypothetical population of 100,000 first-time mothers would theoretically prevent 120 fetal deaths that would statistically occur in the ensuing week, but:17 n We don’t know how many of those deaths would actually be prevented by routine induction in that they were unpredictable events in healthy mothers carrying healthy, normally formed babies.
n That number would be offset by some babies dying as a result of the hazards of induction.
n Any decrease in fetal deaths would be outweighed by the infertility, miscarriage, and fetal and newborn losses consequent to the excess cesareans. (See The Risks of Cesarean Delivery for Mother w Forty-one weeks is the median length of pregnancy in healthy first-time mothers.24 This means that one- half of such pregnancies will last longer than 41 weeks.
w If there is no reason to curtail the natural length of pregnancy, then there is no reason for measures such as stripping or sweeping membranes, which themselves introduce the possibility of risk.
The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS), a United Nations recognized NGO, is a collaborative effort of numerous individuals, leading researchers, and more than 50 organizations representing over 90,000 members.
Promoting a wellness model of maternity care that will improve birth outcomes and substantially reduce costs, CIMS developed the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative in 1996. A consensus document that has been recognized as an important model for improving the healthcare and well being of children beginning at birth, the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative has been translated into several languages and is gaining support around the world.
Coalition for Improving Maternity Services 2003 by The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS). Permission granted to reproduce with complete attribution.
Problems and Hazards of
Induction of Labor
1. Alexander JM, McIntire DD, and Leveno KJ. Forty weeks and beyond: pregnancy outcomes by week of gestation.
2. Brisson-Carroll G et al. The effect of routine early amniotomy on spontaneous labor: a meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol 3. Cammu H et al. Outcome after elective labor induction in nulliparous women: a matched cohort study. Am J Obstet 4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention of perinatal Group B streptococcal disease. MMWR 5. Declercq ER, Sakala C, Corry MP. Listening to Mothers: Report of the First National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Maternity Center Association, Oct 2002.
6. FDA. Cytotec (misoprostol). Access at:, 7. Fullerton JT and Severino R. In-hospital care for low-risk childbirth: comparison with results from the National Birth Center Study. J Nurse Midwifery 1992;37(5):331-340.
8. Garite TJ et al. The influence of elective amniotomy on fetal heart rate patterns and the course of labor in term patients: a randomized study. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1993;168(6 Pt 1):1827-1832.
9. Goer H. Elective induction of labor. <> 10. Goer H. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. New York: Perigee Books, 1999, p 228-9.
11. Goffinet F et al. Early amniotomy increases the frequency of fetal heart rate abnormalities. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 12. Gonen O et al. Induction of labor versus expectant management in macrosomia: a randomized study. Obstet Gynecol 13. Goodman D. Forced labor. Mother Jones Jan/Feb 2001:17-19.
14. Hannah ME et al. Maternal colonization with group B Streptococcus and prelabor rupture of membranes at term: the role of induction of labor. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1997;177(4):780-5.
15. Herbst A, Wolner-Hanssen P, and Ingemarsson I. Risk factors for acidemia at birth. Obstet Gynecol 1997;90(1):125-30.
16. Hofmeyr GJ and Gulmezoglu AM. Vaginal misoprostol for cervical ripening and labour induction in late pregnancy (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, Issue 3, 2000.Oxford: Update Software.
17. Kaufman KE, Bailit JL, and Grobman W. Elective induction: an analysis of economic and health consequences. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2002;186(4):858-63.
18. Kelly AJ, Kavanagh J, Thomas J. Vaginal prostaglandin (PGE2 and PGF2a) for induction of labour at term (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2002.Oxford: Update Software.
19. Levy H et al. Umbilical cord prolapse. Obstet Gynecol 1984;64(4):499-502.
20. Lydon-Rochelle M et al. Risk of uterine rupture during labor among women with a prior cesarean delivery. N Engl J 21. MacDorman M et al. Trends and characteristics of induced labour in the United States, 1989-98. Paediatr Perinat 22. Martin JA et al. Births: final data for 2001. Nat Vital Stat Rep 2002;51(2).
23. Menticoglou SM and Hall PF. Routine induction of labour at 41 weeks gestation: nonsensus consensus. BJOG 24. Mittendorf R et al. The length of uncomplicated human gestation. Obstet Gynecol 1990;75(6):929-32.
25. Mosby. Oxytocin. Mosby’s GenRx Access at: 26. Peck P. Preinduction cervical ripening significantly increases risk of cesarean. Medscape Medical News, 2003. <http:// 27. Searle. letter to health care providers. Aug 23, 2000 28. Stein L. Un-informed consent. Metroactive <>, 29. Tey A, Eriksen NL, and Blanco JD. A prospective randomized trial of induction versus expectant management in nondiabetic pregnancies with fetal macrosomia. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1995;172(1 Pt 2):293.
30. Wing DA and Paul RH. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1996;175(1):158-64.
31. World Health Organization. Appropriate technology for birth. Lancet 1985;2(8452):436-437.
2003 by The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS). Permission granted to reproduce with complete attribution.


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