Researchers Confirm the Labour Induction Method that’s Safest for Babies – Balloon or Prostaglandin?

35 per cent of Australian mums are induced. Whether the labour induction is planned months or weeks in advance or happens last minute due to a stubborn bubba who simply won’t exit the womb, you will most likely be offered two labour induction choices – the “balloon” or the “prostaglandin gel”.

You will also most likely have a lot of questions about both processes – which labour induction method works better? Which one is safer for you? Which one is safer for bub?

Melbourne researchers have recently discovered that one of the two common methods to induce labour is actually safer than the other. According to the study by Monash Health and Monash University, when it comes to labour induction methods, the balloon catheter is your safest choice for babies. 

What is a balloon induction? 

A balloon catheter is one of the methods used to ripen the cervix to prepare for birth. A thin tube called a catheter, with a balloon on the end is inserted into your cervix and the balloon is then inflated with water.

The balloon catheter is used to apply pressure to your cervix to gradually open it and prepare for the next phase of labour. It’s usually left in place for up to 12 hours. Then the water is taken out from the balloon and the catheter is removed.

If you are being induced by a balloon catheter there are a few things to note, according to the Royal Women’s Hospital:

  1. You will be able to move around while it’s in place.
  2. While the balloon catheter can be effective, many women will require further assistance to go into labour.

What is hormone gel induction?

The other most common option is prostaglandin, which is usually inserted into the vagina in either a tablet or gel format. It’s designed to soften the cervix and help prepare it for the next stage of labour. If induced this way, you will need to remain lying down for at least 30 minutes and remain in the hospital until labour begins.

A few notes about prostaglandin induction:

  1. It can make your vagina sore.
  2. A small number of women experience some reactions such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.
  3. Very occasionally, prostaglandin can cause the uterus (womb) to contract too much. If this happens, you will be given medication to relax the uterus.
  4. Like the balloon catheter, most women will need further help to go into labour.

Why is balloon induction safest for babies? 

It should be noted that both the balloon and gel induction options are considered perfectly safe and effective. There was no difference in maternal adverse events or caesarean rates between the two methods.

However, the study, which is published in The Lancet, did find clear evidence that a balloon catheter leads to an improved safety profile for newborns than vaginal hormones.

The study found that babies born through balloon induction experienced:

  • Fewer adverse events such as acidosis (a build-up of acid in the bloodstream).
  • Better condition after birth.
  • Less risk of neonatal intensive care unit admission.

The study focused on 12 high-quality trials that contributed data, resulting in 5,460 women who were randomised in original trials for either balloon catheters or vaginal prostaglandins.

Senior author Dr Wentao Li, a Monash University School of Clinical Sciences Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research Fellow, said the results were significant.

“For the first time, we identified clear evidence that a balloon catheter over vaginal prostaglandins leads to an improved safety profile for newborns, including fewer adverse events such as acidosis, poor condition after birth, or admission to a neonatal intensive care unit,” Dr Li said.

“What all this means is perinatal safety should be carefully assessed in shared decision-making and policymaking around choices of labour induction methods.”

*If you are being induced, it’s important to discuss your options with your doctor. The method of induction you need will depend on how ready your cervix (the neck of your womb) is for labour to begin. Your doctor or midwife will do a vaginal examination to check your cervix and then discuss which method is most appropriate for you.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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