Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inducing Labor

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The nine months of pregnancy are considered to be a sacred time in the life of a mother and even more so in the life of her baby. Just as God is a partner in conception He is also a partner at birth. As such, one is not ordinarily permitted to trigger birth on one's own as if to force God to bring a person into His world.

Click here for moreWe are taught that the day of the week on which a person is born can have an effect on their personality traits, a concept related to the principles of "mazal". For example, it is said that one who is born on a Monday will have a temper and one who is born on a Tuesday will be wealthy.[1] The opposition to inducing labor unnecessarily is also based on many other considerations relating to mazal as well, including strict kabbalistic instructions that a person is not to be born before their predestined time.[2] It is also written in kabbalistic texts that one who is born before their time will die before their time. One's arrival and departure from this world is one of those things in life which are done against one's will.[3] As such, inducing labor is deemed to be an inappropriate tampering with the Divine plan.[4]

There is a well known teaching that a baby is taught the entire Torah while in its mother's womb. Inducing labor may also be an unwarranted and unacceptable conclusion to this intensive Torah study which is taking place. Interrupting this essential Torah study between the baby and its mentoring angel taking place in the womb may serve as an impediment to the child's spiritual development throughout his life.[5] So too, childbirth is deemed by our sages as a time of sakana, a time when one is vulnerable to physical danger,[6] and this is especially true for an induced labor.[7] According to many authorities, however, a normal, natural delivery is not subject to the Talmudic concerns of sakana.[8] As such, inducing labor also violates the rule that one is not permitted to knowingly place oneself in any danger unnecessarily.[9]

Inducing labor so as not to have to violate Shabbat by a possible Shabbat delivery is also an unacceptable consideration as halacha clearly permits one to violate Shabbat for a woman in labor.[10] It goes without saying that it is forbidden to induce labor based on any other considerations revolving around convenience or scheduling issues. There are authorities who allow inducing labor when the preferred doctor will be available in combination with other considerations. It is said in the name of modern day kabbalists that drinking natural mother's milk is a method for inducing or at least hastening labor in a natural and permissible manner.

Labor should only be induced if there is a danger to the mother or child if the pregnancy were to continue. Similarly, once labor pains have set in there is room to allow a hastened delivery if needed in order to avoid fetal distress or other complications. A woman who is well past her due date may be induced if the doctors believe it to be in the best interest of the mother or child. There are also those who allow a woman to be induced in order to alleviate fears, pain, or mental health issues associated with childbirth.[11]


[1] Shabbat 156a
[2] Rokeaich;Kohelet 3:11
[3] Avot 4:24
[4] Mishne Halachot 9:184
[5] Nidda 30b
[6] Shabbat 31b
[7] Mishne Halachot 9:184
[8] Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:74
[9] Choshen Mishpat 427:10
[10] O.C. 330:1
[11] Binyan Av 4:52

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