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Induced labor may actually decrease cesarean births

Sept. 12, 2018—Contrary to a long-standing belief, women who choose to have their labor induced at 39 weeks do not have more cesarean births as a result. In fact, it appears they're actually less likely to need the surgery compared to women who wait for labor to begin on its own, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found.

It has become more common for women to elect to have their labor started 39 weeks into their pregnancy, which experts consider full-term. Sometimes this is due to a woman's discomfort, scheduling issues, or concerns that waiting for labor may lead to problems for moms or babies, according to the Office on Women's Health.

But there have long been concerns that inducing labor could increase a woman's chances of needing a C-section. And while safe, cesarean birth is major surgery, which raises the risk of complications for the mother and baby. And women who have a C-section take longer to recover than from vaginal delivery and are more likely to need C-sections in any future pregnancies.

Two groups compared

To learn whether electing to induce labor does lead to more C-sections (and other potential risks), researchers studied more than 6,000 healthy, first-time moms. About half of the women had their labor induced at 39 weeks; the other half waited for labor to begin naturally. When researchers compared births in both groups, they found that the women who chose to induce labor were:

  • Less likely to have a C-section. The likelihood of needing a C-section was 18.6 percent compared to 22 percent for the women who were not induced. The researchers estimated that inducing labor could avoid one cesarean delivery for every 28 deliveries.
  • Less likely to develop pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).
  • Less likely to have a baby born with breathing problems.
  • No more likely to lose a pregnancy or have other major birth complications in their newborns.

On average, women who chose to start their labor had their babies nearly one week earlier than women who waited. And they had less labor pain.

Not for everyone

The study findings do not mean that all women should have their labor induced, one of the study's authors pointed out. But for women who do choose this option, it does not appear to raise their risk of a C-section or cause problems for their babies.

If you're pregnant and are considering having your labor induced, be sure to ask your doctor about both the benefits and risks.

Looking for pregnancy advice?

Visit our Pregnancy health topic center.

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