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Because babies are at greater risk of developing health problems once a pregnancy goes beyond full term, healthcare providers typically recommend induction within a week or two once pregnancies extend beyond 40 weeks and 6 days. Until now, there's been some debate over whether to induce labor at 41 weeks or wait until 42 weeks.
Seeking clarification, researchers in Sweden recruited 2,760 moms whose pregnancies had reached 41 weeks and randomly divided them into two groups. One group of women was assigned to have their labors induced immediately. The other women were allowed to wait until 42 weeks of pregnancy to see if they gave birth naturally; if they didn't go into labor they too were induced.
The researchers had to stop the trial early because they got some disturbing results. Among the group of women who waited more than 41 weeks to give birth, five babies were stillborn and one died shortly after birth. No babies died or suffered stillbirth in the group whose labor was induced at 41 weeks.
The number of babies who died in the 42-week group was relatively small – just 0.4 percent out of a total of 1,379 babies (of course, even one stillbirth is a horrible tragedy that exacts a heavy toll on families). The percentage was statistically significant enough for the researchers to reach a strong conclusion: To reduce stillbirth risk, providers should consider inducing births at exactly 41 weeks.
It's not clear whether this recommendation will be incorporated into standard medical guidelines. But randomized controlled trials like this one are considered one of the most effective and accurate types of studies, so it's likely providers will take note of the findings.
"This study adds to the growing body of evidence that induction of labour, at or beyond term gestation, is safer for babies, without increasing caesarean section or other complications for mothers," Dr. Sarah Stock, an expert in maternal and fetal health with the University of Edinburgh, told The Guardian.
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