Overdue Baby? How a Foley Bulb Induction Can Get Labor Going

The pros and cons of this nondrug option
Overdue pregnant woman on exam table with back pain

You’ve been pregnant for about a hundred years. So long, in fact, that you’ve forgotten what your toes look like. And still, your little bundle is showing zero signs of moving on out.

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As you start to search for information on labor induction, you come across a procedure called Foley bulb induction. What is a Foley bulb, and could it be right for you?

Ob/Gyn Amy Stephens, MD, fills in the blanks.

Labor induction 101

You want your bun to bake until it’s ready. But sometimes, that bun overstays its welcome and could use some help exiting the premises. Your doctor may recommend inducing labor for several reasons:

  • You’re a week or more past your due date.
  • Your water breaks but contractions don’t start.
  • You have complications or a medical condition that could affect the health of you or your baby.

What’s a Foley bulb induction?

Doctors can use several methods to jumpstart labor. Medications such as oxytocin (Pitocin®) or misoprostol (Cytotec®) soften the cervix and start contractions. But for a nondrug option, look to the Foley bulb, aka Foley balloon.

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“Foley bulb induction is very common,” Dr. Stephens says. It’s a catheter that’s inserted into the cervix. Once it’s in place, a doctor fills the balloon with saline solution. The balloon puts pressure on the cervix, causing it to dilate.

Once the cervix begins to open, the balloon falls out, contractions start and life as you know it is about to change.

Foley bulb: the upsides

Medications to induce labor are quite safe, but they do have potential risks, including excessive bleeding after delivery. And fairly often, the drugs don’t work to start labor.

One advantage of the Foley method, according to Dr. Stephens, is that it can be used with or without medications. It’s especially helpful for women who’ve had a previous cesarean section, she adds, since labor-inducing drugs are a no-go for those pregnant people.

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And the downsides

You’re now imagining a balloon being inflated inside your already-overcrowded uterus, so you’re probably wondering: Does it hurt? Some people experience discomfort, and others might feel a sharp pain when the balloon is inserted. (Then again, very little about childbirth feels like a day at the beach.)  

But doctors can give medications such as nitrous oxide — yep, good old laughing gas — to ease discomfort during the procedure. “Most handle placement of the Foley bulb very well,” Dr. Stephens says.

Aside from some short-term discomfort, there are few drawbacks to Foley bulb induction. Like with medications, the procedure sometimes doesn’t work to kick-start labor, so there’s always a chance you’ll be disappointed by a stubborn cervix.

But if your doctor recommends induction, it’s worth considering the plus side: You may be one balloon away from holding the cutest baby ever in your arms.

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