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Prostaglandin gel may be used at the end of pregnancy to ripen the cervix, which should stimulate labor. It is most often given by a doctor after the due date has passed, with the intention of thinning out the cervix and starting contractions. The gel usually takes hours to work, so a patient may receive it from her doctor, and then return home to await the start of labor. Though it is generally considered safe, some side effects exist including nausea, diarrhea, and vaginal irritation. Prostaglandin gel should only be administered by a doctor, but sexual intercourse is often said to be the more natural method of treatment since sperm contains prostaglandins.
Most doctors are hesitant to soften the cervix through this method until the due date has passed. The exception is when the baby is larger than average before reaching full-term, as this can make labor more dangerous than usual. Thus, prostaglandin gel is not usually prescribed until the woman is about 40 weeks along. Doctors tend to prefer to give patients the gel during a medical exam, and often choose to monitor the mother and fetus to look for signs of labor progression. If the cervix does not begin to ripen, the patient may either be sent home to wait for labor to happen on its own, or she may be sent to the hospital and given another dose to induce contractions that day.
One of the most common ways of applying prostaglandin gel is to place a string of this product near the cervix. Putting the gel on a string allows it to be released slowly, and can also make it easy to remove if the cervix begins to ripen too fast. Some doctors, however, prefer to place a suppository inside or near the cervix. This allows for just a small dose of the gel to be introduced to the body, and can make it easy to insert another dose if necessary.
This product is the artificial version of the hormone prostaglandin, which naturally occurs in the body. In fact, it is normally found in semen, which is why sexual intercourse is considered a natural way to stimulate labor. Some patients may be uncomfortable with this at-home method of inducing labor, though, or it may not work for them as well as the gel does. This is because the artificial version tends to have a higher concentration of prostaglandins than semen. Above all, however, it should be noted that labor tends to only occur when the body is ready, which means that both prostaglandin gel and intercourse may not always be effective in starting contractions.