At 37 weeks pregnant and very uncomfortable, Ginhee Eng, 34, and her OB-GYN made a deal: If she still hadn't gone into labor with her second baby by 38 weeks, he'd induce her. "I wanted my baby out, and I wanted to be sure my doctor delivered her," Eng explains. "He said it was safe, so I thought, 'Why not?' " A week later, the couple went to the hospital for her scheduled induction. Eng received the IV drug Pitocin to start her labor, then an epidural for pain relief. Hours later when labor had stalled, the doctor ruptured her amniotic sac. Fortunately, all went well for Eng and her baby. But in many cases, such interventions pose medical risks women aren't aware of.
Induction is just one procedure that's becoming more common in the U.S. as more women veer from natural childbirth practices, according to a Harris Interactive survey of more than 1,500 mothers who gave birth in 2005 either vaginally or by C-section to a single baby in a hospital. Most women experienced one or more technological interventions (see chart below). "The typical childbirth experience has been transformed into a morass of wires, tubes, machines and medications that leave healthy women immobilized and vulnerable to high levels of surgery," says Maureen Corry, M.P.H., executive director of New York City's Childbirth Connection, a nonprofit organization that commissioned the survey. According to Corry, many of the women surveyed said they were unaware of the potential complications of labor induction, such as the increased likelihood of a C-section (Eng was not aware of this either). And while the women felt they had a right to know about potential complications, most were poorly informed.
While interventions are necessary in some cases to save the life of the mother or child, Corry says, "few healthy, low-risk mothers require technology-intensive care when given good support for labor." Yet the survey showed that few women try low-tech, risk-free methods to ease labor pain and facilitate birth, such as massage, walking, taking a shower, sitting on an exercise ball, or laboring in various positions.
Speaking with your caregiver ahead of time is crucial to avoiding unnecessary interventions and learning about the risks and benefits. "Talk to him or her about your preferences and the best ways the two of you can make them happen," Corry advises. "It's really hard to be grappling with these big decisions when you're under duress, and that's how a lot of women lose control of their own birth experience."