The Foley Bulb Method of Inducing Labor

Technically the Foley Bulb is a “Trans-cervical Foley catheter for pre-induction cervical ripening…” according to the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

For a device that’s been around for many years, its effectiveness is confusing and complicated.   In fact the data I’ve found is mixed.

What is the Foley Bulb Method of Inducing Labor?

The Foley Bulb is a balloon catheter that’s inserted into the cervix and inflated with 30mL of sterile saline solution. The tube on the outside is then taped to the leg and left inside the patient until the cervix ripens to the point where it falls out or is removed by the doctor (~5-12 hours).

The idea is that the inflated balloon will induce ripening/dilation of the cervix to speed up labor.

Research implies that the Foley catheter is:

  • More commonly used on women who are trying for a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-Section)
  • Commonly used in addition to labor inducing drugs like Pitocin
  • Used on  women who are 41 weeks or beyond.

Is the Foley Bulb method Effective?

Based on my research of medical evidence the jury is out on this topic.

In one report I found from the National Guideline Clearing house, a US Dept of Health and Human services on Induction of Labor on the topic found contrasting views.

On the one hand the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) finds that “…the Foley catheter is a reasonable and effective alternative for cervical ripening and inducing labor.”

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) states in their guidelines that

“…mechanical methods do not improve the rate of vaginal birth within 24 hours nor do they reduce the caesarean birth rate.” So they recommend “…mechanical procedures (balloon catheters and laminaria tents) should not be used routinely for induction of labor.”

Also I found research conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); March 2009 in their Report No.: 09-E005, that

“Randomized controlled trials suggest that elective induction of labor at 41 weeks of gestation and beyond may be associated with a decrease in both the risk of cesarean delivery and of meconium-stained amniotic fluid.”

They also concluded in their executive summary that

“In this systematic review and decision analysis of elective induction of labor, we found that overall elective induction of labor as compared to expectant management of the pregnancy was associated with an approximately 20 percent reduction in the rate of cesarean delivery and a 50 percent reduction in the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid.”

This conclusion was also based on women at week 41 or beyond gestation.

Dr. Scheinberg vaginal rejuvenation surgeon, suggested I read  an article reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology of a study performed concluded that

“The use of the Foley catheter for preinduction cervical ripening does not appear to increase the risk of preterm birth in a subsequent pregnancy.”

So, the only conclusions from the gynecolofist near me is that I can draw based on my research that the procedure is overall relatively safe and effective when applied properly and it does not seem to adversely affect follow on pregnancies.

I found no data at all regarding any harm to the baby despite the fact that the balloon is inflated between the cervix and the top of the babies head that is in the cervical canal.

If this method of induction is mentioned by your doctor, obviously you’ll need to educate yourself as much as possible and discuss this thoroughly with your doctor.

Have you had labor induced with the Foley Bulb?  Let us hear your thoughts?

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