How it works
Most women enter labour naturally at around the 40 week mark of their pregnancy. However there are some situations where it becomes necessary to artificially begin the process of labour, for the safety of the mother or child.
‘Prostaglandin’ is a hormone-like substance which can be administered to induce labour, as it causes the cervix to ripen and can stimulate uterine contractions. Prostaglandin is applied as a gel or pessary, which causes the cervix to soften and open. If the gel is applied, it may have to be reapplied every 6 to 8 hours, while the pessary will continue to release Prostaglandin. Once the Prostaglandin has taken effect and the cervix has softened, labour may start naturally or require further action.
Prostaglandin may cause soreness in some women but it is not known to make pregnancy more painful than a natural birth. Prostaglandin can be associated with nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In very rare instances, Prostaglandin can result in uterine contractions, which carries some risks of affecting a baby’s heartrate.
If Prostaglandin does not assist to start the labour process naturally, further action might be taken by administering a chemical called ‘Syntocinon’. Syntocinon is a synthetic version of the chemical ‘Oxytocin’, which is naturally produced by the body and plays an important role in labour and childbirth.
Administering Syntocinon increases activity in the uterus, which can start the labour process or cause stronger contractions in active labour. Because of this, the administration of Syntocinon requires constant monitoring and carries significant risks, so it should not be undertaken where it is not required.
Risks of chemically induced labour
Although expediting labour can be highly beneficial, it comes with significant risks. Syntocinon affects the speed of the fetal heartrate and abnormalities in fetal heartrate can lead to various developmental disorders. Because of this, Syntocinon or other chemicals used during induction of labour should only be administered where there is a clear benefit to both the mother and baby and when fetal heartrate monitoring is available, to avoid danger or injury to the baby.
If too much Syntocinon is administered, contractions may become too frequent and fetal distress may occur. This happens when there isn’t enough oxygen reaching the baby and can lead to serious damage to organs – including the heart and brain – during labour and delivery. Fetal distress will usually necessitate a caesarean section, to prevent problems caused by the lack of oxygen.
If the baby has not yet reached full-term when labour is induced, it faces the same health risks as any other preterm baby. It has also been reported that induced labour is more painful than spontaneous labour and can result in further medical intervention during the labour process.
Other drugs used in labour
‘Terbutaline’ is another chemical used during labour, although it is commonly used to counteract the effects of Syntocinon or other labour inducing drugs. Terbutaline slows uterine activity and delays labour, eg. where a child would be delivered preterm or the fetal heartrate needs to be slowed. Like Syntocinon, an overdose of Terbutaline can cause problems for the baby. Slowing the fetal heartrate too much can cause ongoing heart and brain disorders and has also been found to cause heart problems for the mother.
We have conducted many cases over the years involving children with ongoing disabilities due to negligence in administering labour inducing drugs.
Legal issues which arise in this area include:
- Whether amount of Syntocinon or Terbutaline administered was appropriate.
- Whether the fetal heartrate was adequately monitored during this procedure.
- Whether steps were taken quickly enough to remedy any potential overdoses identified.
How can we help?
If you are looking for information or help in relation to the issues around chemically induced labour, we can help you navigate the process. Our health law team is highly respected in the area, with specialist knowledge accumulated over 25 years.
Our team can assist you by providing expert advice and legal support regarding your options. Contact us today on (02) 4929 3995 or email@example.com or visit www.catherinehenrylawyers.com.au
*The material provided in our information sheets is for general knowledge only and is not a substitute for independent legal advice. For further information about the issues affecting you, please contact one of our experienced and professional lawyers for expert advice.