Labor induction is such a common maternal care practice that it is almost considered to be a normal way of giving birth in the United States. And of course, there are benefits to moms and babies when reasons for induction are medically indicated, such as low amniotic fluid, IUGR and concerning pre-eclampsia symptoms. But with a 42.9% induction rate for first time deliveries , we might want to take a look at ways this common practice could influence a baby’s psychological makeup. Keep in mind that in 1990, there was an average induction rate in the US of 9.5% .
We know that labor induction has some physical risk to the baby: prematurity, if assessment of gestation age is not accurate. Babies born too early, are at greater risk for respiratory and feeding difficulties. Fetal distress during an induction is also possible. There are a few other risks that very occasionally occur, such as neonatal jaundice, neonatal retinal hemorrhage, lower APGAR scores and greater risk of maternal
c-section that could result in temporary separation from mother . Of course, any of these physical complications can affect the baby’s optimal wellbeing, but have we ever considered the lingering, more subtle psychological effects of induced labor on the baby?
From an article posted on www.nationalpartnership.org, the following statements were made about induction of labor, “Labor induction is a major intervention that cuts short important preparations for safe, smooth labor and beyond that take place in the body of a woman and her fetus up to the time when labor starts on its own. We do not at present understand well the possible harms of making pregnancy shorter and using the various methods for starting labor. These may have an adverse effect on important outcomes such as severe bleeding after birth, getting breastfeeding started, maternal mood, maternal behavior and mother-baby attachment.” 
I recently read an interesting article about the possible psychological effects on the baby as a result of labor induction, in an article from Karen Melton, a Somatic Pre and Perinatal Psychologist, in the UK with 38 years of experience working with babies, kids, adults and families. Her article, “Induction of Labor and How it Can Affect your Baby” , caught my attention especially since there are 3 generations of first-born inductions of labor in my own family. Her research suggests some interesting takes on how labor induction might affect a baby’s psychological makeup, “In a natural birth, the baby is the one who initiates the labor, releasing a chemical which begins the contractions. When baby does not get to start her own labor, she misses a crucial piece of important imprinting that will make it hard for her to initiate any new (paths/tasks) in her life. She may find it difficult to feel her internal impulse to initiate (new things), and get started. Think about how many times a day you move through the sequence of beginning something, moving through the middle of the activity to the end, finish it and then integrate your experience afterward.” Karen Melton’s concern is that induction can rob an individual of the drive or initiative to complete certain tasks and goals. It appears that there could be a lingering psychological effect being induced into labor/birth. The effects of not being the determining factor as to when labor begins, can possibly influence how the future child and/or adult meet a new challenge or initiate new activities in life. According to Melton, there could be an inherent resistance to being coerced into a new activity or adventure, if it is not their own idea. Another way the labor induction experience can “imprint” upon a baby, is that in the future, they feel inadequate to initiate new activities without the prompting of an outsider. They don’t necessarily have confidence in the own ability to try something unique or new.
I have high regard for honoring mother nature and how birth has spontaneously occurred for many generations who gave birth prior to 2000. Just as other living beings have the freedom of knowing when to initiate their own arrival on the planet (think of a Monarch butterfly “knowing” it is time to emerge from its cocoon or when an elephant calf has reached its optimal gestational term, labor then begins with a cascade of hormones, that support the process of birth for both mother and her young. But as current data in the rising rate of US labor inductions, we as a society are clearly valuing control and dominance over a normally occurring physiological event. Of course, medical necessity for induction aside, where benefits outweigh the risk of waiting for spontaneous labor, might knowing more about potential psychological effects on the newborn, sway us to more carefully consider, the amount of “convenience” inductions done in the US?
- https://improvingbirth.org/2012/11/state-of-maternity-care/ (updated in 2018)
About the Author
I became a labor doula back in 1999 after meeting Tracy Wilson Peters for coffee one day after picking up her business card in a baby gift shop. I had been casually supporting my friends and family during their birthing experiences and at home after childbirth. I was ecstatic about being a birth professional!
I co-doula’ed with Tracy (one of the original CAPPA founders) in my early career and learned so much. As a single mom with a full time sales/marketing career, I had creatively make time for my passion project of developing as a birth professional. In 2003-2004, I started an apprenticeship with a busy local postpartum doula. I realized how much I enjoyed nurturing new moms at home after birth-helping them with breastfeeding, guiding them with infant care & soothing tips and helping them keep focused on bonding with their baby.
After certifying as a postpartum doula, I have had the privilege of caring for over 100 local families over the past several years. About 5 years ago, I embarked upon my journey as a childbirth educator and discovered how much I love teaching–even though I shied away from it for years. I cherish the opportunity to inspire and empower young expectant couples as they prepare for childbirth. Having now taught over 500 couples in group and private settings, I am energized each time I meet a couple seeking a low intervention birthing experience. I am honored to act as mentor and teacher to women ready to embrace their calling as birth doulas and childbirth educators.