Inducing labor in older pregnant women as they near their due date won’t worsen their birth experiences or make them any more likely to need a C-section, new research finds.
A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that inducing labor in women over age 35 — who are are more likely to end up delivering by C-section — didn’t increase their chances of needing the surgery.
“Those women now have more information to guide their choices,” said Dr. Kate F. Walker, the study’s author and an obstetrician-gynecologist with Nottingham University in England.
Labor can be induced through one of several methods: Doctors can give women hormones to trigger contractions or they can mechanically dilate the cervix. Women are typically induced if their due date has passed, or if doctors have reason to believe the health of mother or baby is at risk, as is sometimes the case in women over age 35.
The randomized, controlled trial tracked 619 women in their 39th week of pregnancy, just a week or so before their due date. Some of the women had labor induced, while others were assigned to wait until it began naturally.
Women who had labor induced weren’t any more likely to ultimately need a C-section. There weren’t any significant differences in the rate of health problems for either mothers or babies. And women in both groups gave similar overall ratings to their birth experience.
Walker said that those findings could provide some relief for patients who are faced with a last-minute choice over whether to induce labor.
“If they are offered an induction of labor at 39 weeks, they can have peace of mind that it will not result [in a] worsening of their birth experience,” she explained.
Dr. Shannon Clark, an obstetrician-gynecologist with University of Texas Medical Branch, said the study can provide reassurance to doctors like herself who are caring for an ever-growing number of mothers over age 35.
But she also hopes it might be a first step toward looking at whether induction of labor is a reasonable way to lower the risk of stillbirth, since women giving birth after age 35 have a slightly higher risk of pregnancy loss. Figuring out whether inducing would help would take a much larger trial, Clark said.
“That may be something that’s down the pipeline,” she said.