Waiting for Labor to Arrive Naturally May Increase Health for Mom and Baby
Americans often leave little room for anything unplanned--even birthing a baby. Many of today's pregnant women are also career women. Fitting a birth into a jam-packed schedule can seem impossible.
Perhaps, the mom-to-be wants to be sure her doctor is not on vacation when she goes into labor. Even swollen ankles and other causes for discomfort may provoke a pregnant woman to request an induced labor. While you and everyone around you may be eager for the baby to arrive, every week counts for a growing fetus.
In 2006, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) found that approximately one out of every five pregnant women had an induced labor. And in the last two decades, the number of inductions has doubled.
"Many hospital leaders are unaware that the hospital has a high rate of elective births--which is why it's important to measure it," explains Pat Cooper, vice president of clinical operations for Quorum Health Resources (QHR). "Starting Jan. 1, 2014, The Joint Commission (TJC) will require hospitals with 1,100 or more births per year to report on the TJC's prenatal care measure set. Within that set is a measure for the rate of C-sections performed." TJC's new rule is expected to reduce many unnecessary elective C-sections.
Many women believe that delivering a few weeks early is just as safe as delivering on the due date--wrong. A due date is simply an estimate and not an indication that the baby is ready to be born.
Sometimes inductions are essential for the health of the mom and the baby. Labor can be induced by medication that softens the cervix to jump-start contractions. The downfall? The ACOG says medical inductions can increase a mother's odds of having a C-section by 23.4 percent for medically indicated inductions and 23.8 percent for elective inductions. A C-section is a major surgery and requires several extra weeks to recover when compared with a natural birth, which usually requires only a few days to return to normal activities.
Mounting research suggests that if a birth is induced prior to a full-term pregnancy (39 weeks), the mom and baby have an increased risk for complications. According to the March of Dimes, in the last two decades, the number of inductions has more than doubled. Since many births are scheduled early for non-medical reasons, the March of Dimes launched an education campaign "Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait" to bring awareness to the dangers of unnecessary inductions and C-sections prior to 39 weeks.
At 35 weeks, a baby's brain weighs just two-thirds of what it does at 39 weeks. Those last few weeks can be critical to the development of the fetus. Specific problems which can be caused by inducing labor include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Trouble sucking, swallowing and staying awake long enough to eat
- Vision and hearing issues
- Liver not fully developed (vital for getting rid of toxins)
- Skin is not thick enough to regulate body temperature
- Changes in baby's heart rate
- Increased risk of developing jaundice
"Nonmedical inductions should only be performed if a fetus is determined to be at least 39 weeks or if fetal lung maturity is evident," said Certified Nurse Midwife Brenda Johnson at Amery Regional Medical Center. "Still, even though inductions after 39 weeks are considered safe, the safest and best labor plans is to be patient and wait for natural contractions to begin."
To spread the word about the importance of waiting at least 39 weeks to deliver a baby, you can purchase a March of Dimes "Healthy Babies are worth the wait" T-shirt or visit www.marchofdimes.com/39weeks to learn more. The American College of Nurse Midwives also endorses full-term pregnancies and offers a helpful guide to understanding normal, healthy childbirth which can be downloaded for free at http://ourmomentoftruth.midwife.org/.