The end of pregnancy can be an emotional rollercoaster for any woman. Especially being a first time mom, there is so much unknown regarding childbirth. Not knowing when or how you’ll be going into labor is stressful. However, even each labor and delivery can be different for every pregnancy in the same woman. Whether or not you have been advised that you may be induced, it’s best to be as prepared as possible.
There are several reasons why a woman would have their labor induced versus have it happen naturally. It could be due to the mother or baby’s medical condition, going well past your due date, water breaking prematurely, reduced amniotic fluid, and more. Read more about reasons for induction from the Mayo Clinic here.
How does labor get induced with Pitocin?
Typically, your cervix (the hole that the baby comes out of) opens up wide enough to let the baby pass through. Oxytocin is naturally released from your brain into your body which sends signals to your uterus to contract and dilate the cervix. If this doesn’t happen naturally, medical intervention may be necessary.
The purpose of the drugs to induce your body into labor is to quickly open up the cervix. Pitocin is the artificial form of Oxytocin. If Oxytocin isn’t naturally being released in your body to prepare it for labor, Pitocin can have a similar effect. Pitocin is administered through an IV at certain dosages. It’s gradually increased until the uterine contractions are strong enough to fully dilate the cervix.
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How my labor began
I was 39+3 weeks pregnant and my water broke at home while I was by myself. I wasn’t in any pain so I knew that the contractions hadn’t started yet. I was worried about what to do since I was told to wait until the contractions are 3-5 minutes apart to go to the hospital. However, I knew that since my water broke, I needed to deliver within 24 hours.
I ended up driving myself to the hospital because my contractions hadn’t started yet and I wasn’t in any pain. Although everything worked out fine, this was probably a bad decision in hindsight. If they did start on my drive, I wouldn’t have been able to safely be behind the wheel.
When I arrived and got admitted, the doctor did his check. My water did indeed break, but I was only 1-2cm dilated. He said that he would give me 6-8 hours to hopefully let labor start on it’s own. If it didn’t he would give me Pitocin to begin the contractions (getting induced).
I did everything I could while at the hospital to get the contractions started. I bounced up and down on a therapy ball, walked up and down the hallways, and ate spicy food. I was even willing to do jumping jacks and stand on my head if it would work, but there was no helping it. So about 8 hours later, they started the IV with Pitocin.
What I wish I had known about being induced
I wasn’t prepared to be induced because I was having a healthy pregnancy and I hadn’t even approached my due date yet. Therefore, I wasn’t researching induction techniques or risks because I didn’t know that I would have needed to go through it.
I didn’t feel that I had a great experience with being induced for my first childbirth. Therefore, I wanted to share my experience of the things that I wish I had known. Your physician or midwife is responsible for all your medical care and you have to put your trust in them. However, I feel like it’s important to educate yourself before things start so you’re most aware of what’s happening to your body and the issues that can arise.
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If your water breaks on it’s own, you can still be induced
I used to be under the impression that a woman’s water breaking meant that labor was starting. However, that’s not the case. Although my water broke naturally, my labor still had to be induced. When your water breaks, the sac that is holding your baby ruptures and all the amniotic fluid starts to leak out. This can actually happen at any time during pregnancy.
Most of the time, the water breaking can initiate the uterus to start contracting to get labor started. In some cases, the contractions never start on their own. Once the water breaks, the baby needs to be delivered within 24 hours to reduce the risk of infection. Since labor can take several hours once the contractions start, they need to get it started as soon as possible.
You can’t eat
Once they begin to administer the Pitocin through an IV, you won’t be able to eat again. If you’re lucky, you will deliver your baby quickly and that won’t be a problem. However, some women are in labor from being induced for 20+ hours and can’t eat the entire time. Since my water had already been broke and they had planned to induce me a few hours after that, I was advised to eat right before they began the Pitocin.
You have to get an IV for Pitocin
Let’s be honest, I didn’t even know what Pitocin was at first. Are they giving me a pill, an oral liquid, a shot? It turns out, Pitocin is a liquid form of a drug used to induce contractions that goes in your body through an IV. The IV is inserted by a catheter into a peripheral vein in the hand or arm.
I was nervous about getting an IV because I’m so squeamish with needles. However, when you’re in the moments of childbirth and know that you’re ready to meet your baby soon, those fears all go out the window. I barely felt the IV and just let it happen.
You can feel the Pitocin running through your body
As soon as they started the Pitocin drip into my vein, I actually felt it running through my body. It was kind of a weird experience, but it didn’t hurt. My body just felt a little warm sensation as the medicine ran through all the blood vessels.
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Pitocin causes stronger and more painful contractions
The contractions induced with medical intervention lead to stronger and more painful contractions versus naturally occurring contractions. This was my first baby so I had nothing else to compare it to. The contractions were so painful, but I just assumed that’s what they all felt like. However, I did find out these were a lot more intense compared to my next baby which was not induced.
Although it’s not guaranteed that you will need an epidural when you are induced, my doctor advised that I should get it before I really experienced how bad the contractions can get. These contractions are almost intolerable without pain meds. Fortunately with more medical intervention, we can curtail that pain a bit!
It can cause contractions to be closer than 3-5 minutes apart
Typically, when contractions are 3-5 minutes apart (and you are fully dilated), you can push your baby out successfully. This gives time in between contractions for the baby to recover from each contraction. The contractions shouldn’t get much closer than that because the baby won’t get a break. However, when you are trying to artificially create something in the body that is supposed to happen naturally, it doesn’t always work like it should.
In my experience, the amount of Pitocin that went into my body through the IV was increased at specific increments to intensify the contractions and make sure they would get my body ready. Once I had the epidural, it seemed like the doctor put it up to full blast to quicken the time it would take because I couldn’t feel anything. This was the major problem.
Due to the high amount of Pitocin, I was experiencing very intense contractions that were occurring much quicker than normal. Instead of happening every 3-5 minutes, they were occurring one right on top of each other. I couldn’t feel it at all because I had an epidural so we were dependent on the nurses and doctors to monitor the contractions on the screen to make sure everything was progressing normally.
Since contractions are actually just as intense for baby as they are for mom, the baby can experience some trauma from them, as well. Typically they get a 3 minute break to relax, but my baby was not getting that, leading to decreased heart rate which I’ll talk about below.
Pitocin can cause a baby’s heart rate to drop
Due to the stronger and more intense contractions brought on by Pitocin, the baby has a higher risk of going into distress. When there is too much stress placed on their body during labor (strong contractions), their heart rate may drop. Decreased heart rate can lead to poor oxygen getting to the baby’s brain and that is when life threatening issues could arise. Although decreased heart rate can occur with natural labor, as well, it is more common when induced.
Luckily when you have an epidural, they monitor the baby’s heart rate. During labor, my baby’s heart rate began to fall which was a really scary experience for me. The doctors and nurses were running in and out of the room to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. I didn’t know exactly what was going on at this point and was nervous that something bad could be happening to my baby.
You may need a c-section
When you are induced, your body may not be ready to give birth. Going into labor is typically a natural process that your body prepares for and let’s happen on its own. When you’re induced, you are artificially making your body do something that it may not be ready to do.
If your body is not naturally ready to send a baby out into the world, even medical intervention may not help. Most of the time the medication works to open up the cervix, but sometimes it does not. If you have been in labor for a long time (15-20+ hours), your doctor may recommend a c-section to get the baby out fast. If the Pitocin hasn’t worked in that long of a period of time, they will be able to know when it just won’t work at all.
Getting induced does not mean that you will definitely need a c-section, however your chances may be slightly higher. Since they’ve already begun the process of inducing you, the baby has to come out one way or another and that’s when a c-section would be done.
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. . . . . .
If you have a healthy pregnancy and have the choice of being induced or letting labor happen naturally, wait until it begins on it’s own. You might be anxious to give birth and meet your baby, but it will be the best for you both.
Most women have a successful delivery after being induced. As long as you’re educated and know the benefits and risks, you will have a positive childbirth. However, there are other risks involved that fortunately I did not experience. For more information on labor induction, visit Mayo Clinic and March of Dimes