Often, a pregnant woman has just been assigned a hospital bed when her doctor pops in to break her water -- supposedly a way to get the show on the road. But new research suggests the procedure might do no such thing.
The hormones in the amniotic fluid have been thought to stimulate contractions, but not only does an amniotomy fail to speed up and strengthen labor, it also fails to improve a woman's satisfaction with the birth experience, an analysis by the Cochrane Review found. Nor does it result in the baby being in better condition after birth.
Lead author Rebecca Smyth of the University of Liverpool cautions that the review probably shouldn't be the final word on the common practice. Her report, published recently, analyzed 14 studies involving almost 5,000 women, but some of the research was of inferior quality. And questions remain, such as whether the stage of cervical dilatation matters in the outcome.
Still, Smyth says, pregnant women should be informed that current research suggests breaking the water has no effect. "In some centers, it is advocated and performed routinely in all women," she notes. And in many centers, it is used for women whose labors have become prolonged."