Despite Other Concerns, Inducing Labor May Be Safest Option for Large Babies

Early-term induction – defined as induction during the 37th or 38th week of pregnancy – is widely associated with a number of risk factors for both mother and baby. These include:

  • Heightened risk of infection for both mother and baby
  • Immature lung development, which can cause difficulty breathing
  • Compression of the umbilical cord during pregnancy
  • Uterine rupture
  • Higher rates of C-sections

In addition, induction at any gestational age carries its own set of risks. These risks are largely associated with administration of oxytocin (commonly known by its brand name, Pitocin), which is used to stimulate the uterus and cause contractions to begin the birthing process. Improper administration of oxytocin is a form of medical malpractice that can lead to birth defects such as cerebral palsy and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Yet, despite these and other risk factors, a new study suggests that induction may actually be the safest option for “oversized” babies.

Risks of Full-Term Labor for Oversized Babies

The study focused on the risks associated with shoulder dystocia. Shoulder dystocia occurs when a baby’s shoulders make impact with the mother’s pelvic bone, disrupting the delivery process. This can lead to hemorrhaging, lacerations, spinal cord injuries, fractures, brachial plexus palsies, and suffocation in emergency situations.

Oversized babies – those in the 95th percentile for weight based on gestational age – are at increased risk for shoulder dystocia. While just one percent of babies born at normal weight experience shoulder dystocia, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that up to ten percent of oversized fetuses experience this complication during delivery.

Given the severity of the risks associated with shoulder dystocia, doctors at Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland recently conducted a study to examine whether early-term induction could help prevent this complication from occurring. In theory, if fetal weight is a causal factor for shoulder dystocia, then early-term induction – which allows for birth at a lower weight – should help prevent the number of occurrences.

Early-Term Induction May Reduce Risk of Shoulder Dystocia

The results of the study suggest that early-term induction may reduce the risk of shoulder dystocia. Among the 409 pregnant women who agreed to undergo early-term induction for the study, just six percent experienced shoulder dystocia. When compared to the ten percent average published by the ACOG, this amounts to one case of shoulder dystocia avoided for every 25 labor inductions.

Based on these findings, the study’s lead author believes that the benefits of early-term induction for oversized babies outweigh the induction-related risks noted above. However, he stressed that waiting until the 39th week of labor to induce may diminish the benefits, in which case the risk-benefit analysis could swing back in favor of natural, full-term delivery. If you are considering early-term induction, you should speak with your doctor and make sure that you understand all of the risks involved.

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If you would like to learn more about the risks associated with labor induction or shoulder dystocia, we’re here to help. Call (855) 712-7818 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our medical malpractice attorneys today.