Dad’s guide to induction
By week 40 of pregnancy you and your partner are probably feeling pretty eager to get the waiting over with. It is natural to feel like this. By this stage in the pregnancy, your baby is fully grown and on average weighs around 7½lb.
And baby is probably preened for the occasion too, having shed most of its lanugo (the fine downy hair all over its body), with only small amounts likely to remain – perhaps on the shoulders and in between the creases in its skin.
But what if it’s got stage fright and just won’t make its entrance? What then?
Well, according to the NHS, induction of labour may well be the answer. This is because the organisation says that “There is a higher risk of stillbirth if you go over 42 weeks pregnant.”
Of course, not all women are at risk when “overdue”. However, as there is no reliable way of determining who is, “induction is offered to all women who don’t go into labour by 42 weeks.”
Induction of labour is, undeniably, best practice, but don’t feel alarmed just because the baby hasn’t arrived to timetable – instead consider it an introduction to parenting: children and babies have a habit of not performing as expected. In fact, one 2013 study reported in the journal Human Reproduction looked at the experiences of 125 pregnancies and found that the length of full-term pregnancy can vary by as much as five weeks. So, is the notion of a due date even helpful? We won’t get onto that here – instead, we’ll look calmly at what induction of labour means, what will happen and how you can prepare yourself (oh and, yes, your very pregnant partner, as well).
Preparing to perform
Above all, try not to panic or to feel pressure about your partner going naturally into labour. Consider the performance analogy again: if you ask a child to sing their favourite song in front of a crowd of expectant relatives, he is likely to become shy and hide behind the sofa. Leave him to his own devices and you might be lucky enough to receive an impromptu “performance”.
Anecdotally at least, babies have a knack of doing the same thing around the time of their due date –
don’t get over anxious about it and he’ll make an appearance at roughly the right time. But if they don’t, you (well, the medical team) may have to wade in with a swift prompt.
So, while being relaxed about it is a very good thing, it’s a good idea to prepare for induction. You may wish to do this discreetly so that you don’t worry your partner.
Preparing for induction
If you are ultimately faced with induction, there is nothing unusual about the process. In fact, only 4% of babies are born on their due date, with one in five babies born in the UK being induced. Some mothers even opt to undergo induction before the NHS’s 42-week cut off mark.
Even if you and your partner have been committed to the idea of a “natural birth”, if the baby simply won’t come out a point will arrive when you have to accept that risks of continuing the pregnancy might outweigh the risks of induction.
But don’t worry, you can still make a positive difference to the birth experience even if it is more medicalised than you would like it to be. With this in view it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the process.
How to be induced
Medical induction begins with a procedure known as a membrane or cervical sweep, during which the doctor or midwife sweeps a finger through the cervix in order to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac from the cervix. This releases labour hormones called prostaglandins and oxytocin, which will hopefully begin your labour.
However, this does not always work and it may be necessary to use a cervical softener to dilate the cervix. This is done in the form of a pessary (a tablet inserted into the vagina) or sometimes a gel, and in most cases contractions will begin within six hours – a second dose of the gel or pessary may be necessary if it doesn’t.
It is natural that you and your partner might feel frustrated that labour has arrived like this and it is perfectly reasonable to acknowledge your disappointment at the reality of a more medicalised and, sometimes, more painful birth.
But remember, it is still an important and beautiful event and you can still be there to provide love and support throughout – even though induction would definitely not have been part of your birth plan. In fact, if you are having a planned induction you can use it as an opportunity to be thoroughly prepared. This means that you can get everything ready at home while also taking time out to help your partner feel as relaxed as possible – think nice meals, massages and warm baths!
Induction may not be an ideal experience but it doesn’t have to be one in which you and your partner feel frightened and powerless. Stay steady, keep calm, show support and take as much control as possible to make the most of it. Your baby will be born and it is still a celebration!