Study Makes a Case for Inducing Labor After 39 Weeks

An elective induction is one way to avoid a c-section.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
Feb 2018
Woman in labor, partner wiping her forehead
Photo: iStock

Something we hear from pregnant women more than you might think: They’d do anything to avoid a c-section. And if that’s true, a new study is highlighting one intervention method as particularly feasible: induction.

While more research is needed before any changes are made to clinical practices, researchers say inducing labor at 39 weeks among healthy, first-time moms reduces the rate of c-sections compared to women who wait for labor to begin on its own after 39 weeks. So, yes, that involves women opting for an elective induction—when it’s not medically necessary—for the sake of avoiding a c-section.

To be clear, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is not opposed to elective inductions. While the organization makes clear that, for the most part, “the ob-gyn may recommend induction if the pregnancy is post-term or if the health of the mother or fetus is at risk,” it also indicates that “labor might also be induced for elective (nonmedical) reasons, such as living far away from the hospital.” It all depends on what the OB thinks is best for a mother’s health.

That position bodes well for findings out of the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Researchers divided 6,100 pregnant women across the country into two groups. Half waited for labor to begin on its own, and intervention only occurred if complications arose. The other half underwent an elective induction at 39 weeks. The differences were slight, but present. Here’s what they found:

  • Lower rates of c-sections among the elective induction group (remember, inductions aren’t always successful): 19 percent compared to 22 percent
  • Lower rates of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension in the elective induction group: 9 percent compared to 14 percent

As it stands, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine does not recommend routine induction, even at 39 weeks. They’ll be evaluating the peer-reviewed version of their study before revising any of their current guidelines about induction.

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