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Inducing Labor: Don't Force Mother Nature's Hand

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June 22, 2000 -- The last few weeks of pregnancy can seem endless, and it's tempting to ask your doctor to induce labor to get the whole thing over sooner -- especially in the hot, uncomfortable summer months. Or perhaps your obstetrician will be going out of town soon, and he suggests bringing on labor when you get near your due date.

But maybe you shouldn't try to fool with Mother Nature. Investigators have found that when women undergo elective induction, they are more than twice as likely to have a cesarean delivery, according to the authors, who recently published their findings in the journal Obstetrics Gynecology. When women giving birth for the first time have an elective induction, they are almost three times as likely to end up with a cesarean.

And cesarean deliveries are not without risk. Compared to women who have regular vaginal deliveries, those who have cesareans are nearly twice as likely to be back in the hospital within 60 days, according to a study in a May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cesarean births carry the risk of life-threatening blood clots, excessive bleeding, infection, and tearing of the uterus or of the surgical incision, among others.

Physicians induce labor by administering medications like oxytocin, or break the bag of waters before actual labor begins. It is considered "elective" if there is no medical reason for it, and the established medical community discourages widespread use of the practice.

"Women and physicians should not feel pressured to induce labor if the pregnancy is at term but all is going well, even though the mother is tired of being pregnant," according to lead author Arthur S. Maslow, DO, MSc. "If you're not approaching the 42nd week of pregnancy, it's best to be patient." He is a physician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.

He and co-author Amy L. Sweeny, MPH, reviewed information from the medical records of nearly 1,200 women. Of these, just over 870 went into spontaneous labor, and nearly 285 had their labor induced. The women all had low-risk pregnancies. They were each carrying only one baby, who was lying in the standard "head-first" position, and they gave birth between the 38th and 41st weeks of pregnancy.

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