In the best of circumstances, your pregnancy ends as predicted at the 40th week, when you gently go into labor and have a relatively pain-free and complication-free birth. Unfortunately, it doesn't always go that way. You might get past that 42nd week of pregnancy with no end in sight. Or your blood pressure might skyrocket, putting yourself and your baby in danger. Or your doctor may be concerned that the baby's growth has stopped. There are numerous reasons could cause your obstetrician to recommend you to induce labor, which begs the question: does getting induced hurt?
Like most things in pregnancy, the answer to whether being induced is painful is: it depends. Part of it depends on your pain threshold, part of it is just luck (or lack of luck, depending on your particular outcome). The anxiety of the unknown, particularly if you've heard horror stories about the pain of induction from friends and relatives, can also serve to make it feel worse, even if it isn't. As Dr. Amy Peters, an obstetrician at Memorial Care Saddleback Medical Center in California, tells Romper, "Anxiety increases one's sensitivity to pain. Sometimes the anticipation from knowing contractions are being initiated may lead a woman to have more discomfort than another may have from spontaneous labor. Physiologically speaking, a contraction is a contraction regardless of the initiating factor, so if you take out the mind piece, induced labor shouldn't cause more discomfort than spontaneous labor."
Yes, contractions obviously hurt, and any form of induction is meant to kick start labor and bring those dreaded contractions on. But what about the actual process of being induced itself? Well, there are several types of inductions, and each has its own potential opportunities for discomfort, if not pain.
If you head into the induction with a cervix that's hard, closed or tilted, the medical professionals might begin your induction by putting medicine on your cervix to thin the walls. Dr. Peters describes Cervidil medicine as "the world's smallest tampon" that is infused with the medication prostaglandin often used to ripen a cervix. This process itself can be uncomfortable — you do have someone inserting a "tampon" into your vagina after all — but the actual insertion shouldn't be painful. However, it can take six hours or more to complete the process in which it can feel like it is zapping and stinging you, as this mother described, as it works it's magic.
But we every body is different, not everyone looks back on their experience with Prostaglandin as fondly. Another woman, Charlotte (mom of three), claims that the suppository caused a strong burning sensation that hurt a lot.
Once the cervix is thin enough, some doctors choose to use a balloon catheter to help the cervix dilate even further. To do this, they insert a deflated balloon catheter into the cervix. They then inflate the balloon to four centimeters and periodically tug it out to simulate the action of a baby's head coming down the birth canal. While doctors may claim that this process can be uncomfortable, a pregnant woman may experience tolerable discomfort, or in the case of Anne, 31, extreme pain. "The doctor who was administering the balloon told me it would be uncomfortable, but tolerable, and I definitely disagree. I regret not getting the epidural before this step because everything from the physical presence of the balloon to the severe cramping it induced were pretty extreme and unlike contractions that come in waves, this pain was consistent."
Oxytocin aka Pitocin
There is one medication that we all associate with inductions, and that is Pitocin. That is actually the brand name of the synthetic version of oxytocin (the hormone your body produces to make your uterus contract). Sometimes Pitocin will be used on its own, sometimes with other methods (like the ones listed above). Either way, it "is administered intravenously by an infusion pump," explains Dr. Gerardo Bustillo, an obstetrician at the Orange Coast Medical Center in California. So in this case, a woman may find discomfort while they are getting the IV, but the actual receiving of the drug itself doesn't hurt, until they start feeling those contractions.
Just because a doctor or nurse tells you any part of this procedure will be "painless" or cause "slight discomfort," it doesn't mean it might not be extremely painful. On the other hand, it may be relatively benign. If you're afraid of the pain and planning on getting an epidural, you could request to have the epidural line in place without the medication before you start the induction process. That way, when the pain gets intolerable there is less of a delay to receive the pain reliever. It's also easier for the anesthesiologist to insert it when you are not writhing in pain.
The good news in all of this? The "halo effect" which is the positive feelings some women experience after giving birth that are so strong the pain they just endured is forgotten long enough that they are willing to go through the whole process again.
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