Does Labor Induction Cause Higher C-Section Rates?

Newborn baby

There has been much medical debate over why the rate of C-section deliveries is on the rise. Many factors are contributing to the spike in number of C-sections performed today, including older maternal age, rising obesity rate among moms-to-be and an increase in multiple birth deliveries. Previous studies have also pointed to concern that labor induction may lead to a higher risk of emergency C-section rather than normal delivery. Induction of labor in the U.S. has risen from less than 10 percent of deliveries to more than 22 percent between 1990 and 2006, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new Scandinavian study, however, reveals that inducing labor from week 39 to week 41 of gestation is not correlated with higher rates of C-section.

Medical reasons for early induction of labor before 41 weeks may include large fetal size, lack of proper fetal growth and maternal health concerns like diabetes and preeclampsia. But some also believe the increasing rate of early-term induction may reflect lifestyle choices; doctors and parents-to-be want more control in timing the delivery of that little bundle of joy. Some women believe delivering a few weeks early poses no risk and may mean more comfort and convenience for them.

Researchers analyzed data from the Danish Medical Birth Registry, including roughly 230,000 birth records of women who delivered babies between 2004 and 2009. Fifteen percent of these births were from induced labor and the C-section rate was about 7 percent. These percentages are much lower than U.S. rates, where one in three babies is delivered by C-section and more than 20 percent of labors are induced. Initially, it was noted in the study that C-section rates were higher in women whose labor was induced compared to those who had spontaneous labor. But after adjustments for other factors such as age, smoking habits and use of epidural, the results showed that induction of labor was not associated with an increased risk of C-section from the gestational weeks 39 to 41. The study, did however, find a higher C-section rate among more obese women and older women.

Previous research has suggested that induced labor results in C-sections twice as often as natural labor. In particular, labor induced at 37 and 38 weeks of gestation, a period obstetricians describe as “early term,” were more likely to lead to C-section delivery. Medically speaking, it’s considered safe to induce after 41 weeks gestation. While this study found no increased risk of C-section following induction in weeks 39 to 41 gestation, medical professionals today are urged not to induce unless medically necessary. When labor complications are present, induction of labor and C-section can undoubtedly save lives and lead to better health outcomes. But if you aren’t experiencing any problems or risks, the latest research says letting it all happen naturally is safest for mom and baby.

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