Stillbirth and newborn death risk could be reduced by offering more pregnant women the chance to give birth on their due date.
Currently, women who are overdue without any health concerns are often given a couple of extra weeks to progress before doctors intervene.
However new research suggests bringing forward induction to 40 weeks’ gestation may be a safer option for mothers and babies.
This is a growing group that generally has a higher risk of birth complications – although the absolute risk for an individual woman and her baby is still small, say experts.
According to the new research, one baby death might be avoided for every 526 inductions of labour if women over 35 were helped to give birth on their due date rather than a week or two after it.
In the study of nearly 80,000 women in England, the rate of stillbirth or death of a baby within seven days of birth was eight per 10,000 pregnancies when induction was carried out earlier, compared with 26 per 10,000 when induction was postponed (known as “expectant management”) to allow more time for labour to happen naturally.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers say a change in policy to inductions at 40 weeks could potentially save about 50 babies’ lives a year in the UK.
However lead researcher Hannah Knight said it was too soon to recommend changing the current guidelines – more studies were needed first – although the findings could help pregnant women make informed choices about the timing of their labour.
“There appears to be evidence that bringing forward the offer of induction to 40 weeks would be beneficial. It should be something that women and doctors discuss together.
“This study represents the strongest evidence yet that moving the offer of induction forward to 40 weeks might reduce the risk of stillbirth in this specific age group, which we know face a greater risk of stillbirth and neonatal death.”
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