After nine months of being pregnant, you probably can’t wait for the arrival of your due date. You may be anxious about the actual labor and delivery, especially if it's your first child. Nonetheless, you're prepared and ready to meet your baby and begin the next chapter in your life.

But even if you have a healthy pregnancy with few complications, labor may not start when you expect. Different women go into labor at different times. Some women start labor close to their due dates, or before their due dates. Others go several days past their due dates with no contractions.

If labor doesn’t start on its own, your doctor may need to induce labor and stimulate uterine contractions. There are different ways to induce contractions and have a successful vaginal birth. One method your doctor may recommend is known as foley bulb induction.

What’s a foley bulb induction?

A foley bulb induction is a procedure where your doctor insets a catheter into your cervix. One side of the catheter is deflated. Once inside your womb, your doctor inflates the balloon with a saline solution.

This puts pressure on your cervix and encourages dilation. The catheter falls out once your cervix dilates to 3 centimeters. In many cases, this method successfully stimulates labor without medication. But your doctor may use this method in conjunction with labor-inducing medications.

With any procedure, it’s important that you know what to expect. The insertion of a Foley catheter can be a bit uncomfortable, and some women experience sharp pelvic pain. The pain may subside once the catheter is in place. Once induction takes place, contractions may begin shortly thereafter.

A foley bulb induction can be done once you’re admitted into the hospital, at which time your doctor monitors your heart rate and your baby’s heart rate. Or it may be an outpatient procedure. You can go home and return to the hospital once you’re experiencing full-blown labor.

Other induction methods

A foley bulb induction is a safe and effective method for inducing labor. But it's not the only option available. Speak with your doctor to understand your options and choose the best method. Other options include:

1. Strip the amniotic membranes.

Using a gloved finger, your doctor inserts a finger into your cervix and separates the amniotic sac from your uterine wall. This can stimulate labor contractions. This method is effective, but it's not comfortable. You may experience cramping and spotting.

2. Breaking your water.

This method involves your doctor making a small hole in the amniotic sac using a special instrument. Breaking your water can speed or induce labor. In most cases, your doctor only breaks your water if you’re partially dilated.

3. Labor-inducing medications.

Your doctor can also give medications through an IV or directly onto your cervix to help jump-start uterine contractions and induce labor. Options include the hormone Pitocin, or you may receive prostaglandin gel to soften and prepare the cervix for labor.

Labor induction with Pitocin has become common for many pregnant women. Most have never heard of a foley bulb induction. If you’re facing or requesting induction of labor, talk to your doctor about all of your options. Induction using a foley bulb is a great option for some women, and may help you avoid the side effects associated with Pitocin or other medications.
— Nicole Galan, RN

Purpose of foley bulb induction

There are various reasons why you may need a Foley bulb induction, including:

  • You're more than a week past your due date.
  • You develop health problems during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, an infection, or if your baby isn’t receiving enough oxygen.
  • Your water breaks, but you don’t have contractions.

Risks of labor induction

The end of your pregnancy can be an uncomfortable time. You may have back pain, trouble walking, or difficulty sleeping. If you’re past your due date, you may welcome an induction. But it's important to understand the risks of labor induction, which include:

  • higher risk for a cesarean delivery
  • labor-inducing medications can cause a low heart rate
  • a higher risk of infection
  • umbilical cord problems
  • bleeding after birth
  • uterine rupture

Given the potential risk, your doctor can choose the safest induction method for your situation. The good news is that researchers have found foley bulb induction to be a safe option for a woman with an unfavorable cervix at term.

The takeaway

Labor induction isn't uncommon. It accounts for about 25 percent of all deliveries in developed countries. Whether your doctor recommends a foley bulb induction or another method, you should understand the medical reasons for the induction, potential benefits, and the potential risks.