GALVESTON, Texas -- A new national study has found that inducing labor in first-time mothers at 39 weeks can help prevent cesarean births and high blood pressure.
The University of Texas Medical Branch participated in the study and Dr. George Saade, chief of obstetrics and the principal investigator at UTMB, said that babies born to women induced at 39 weeks did not have worse outcomes compared to those who were not induced at 39 weeks.
"Actually, they had lower respiratory problems," Saade said. "This is the first large trial ever done on this topic and its result will have a significant impact on the management of pregnancy because it goes against the belief that induction would increase cesarean and lead to worse outcomes."
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted through the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"First time mothers now should discuss this with their health care provider and decide whether they prefer to be induced at 39 weeks or wait for labor to start on its own," Saade said. "At UTMB, we have already made changes to our practice in order to address this new approach and the likely need for more induction of labor."
The study involved more than 6,100 healthy, first-time expectant mothers at UTMB and 11 other clinical centers across the U.S. About half of the women were randomly assigned to be induced at 39 weeks, while the other half waited for labor to begin naturally. Some women in the latter group were induced after 39 weeks for medical reasons.
While delivering by cesarean section is generally safe for mother and baby, it is a surgical procedure with potential risks and a longer recovery time.
"Nationally, the rates of cesarean births remain high," Saade said. "Most pregnancies after the first cesarean are delivered by cesarean again. So preventing the first cesarean is one of the most effective ways to decrease overall cesarean rates. We hope that this new study will lead to some significant decreases in cesarean rates nationally. We also hope that rates of hypertension in pregnancy, a condition that can lead to severe complications and even death, will decrease too."