Inducing labour for women still pregnant at 41 weeks could lower stillbirth rate

New research could lead to big changes

Results from a recent trial could help lower the number of stillbirths.

New research has found that inducing pregnant women at 41 weeks could lower the number of stillbirths.

Currently, the NHS states that induction can be offered to women who have not had their babies by 42 weeks.

But the new research, carried out in Sweden, suggests there is an increased risk of babies being stillborn after 41 weeks.

The study focused on 2,760 women with low-risk pregnancies, who were admitted to 14 Swedish hospitals between 2016 and 2018.

Half were randomly assigned to induction at 41 weeks and the rest to “expectant management” until 42 weeks.

Researchers compared “wait and see” babies with babies who were induced at 41 weeks, on a number of factors such as oxygen levels and breathing problems.

But the trial was cut short after five babies of women who were more than 41 weeks’ pregnant were stillborn and one died shortly after birth.

Dr Sarah Stock, honorary consultant in maternal and foetal medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said, “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.

“This carefully conducted Swedish study suggests that offering pregnant women induction of labour at 41 weeks’ gestation, rather than waiting until 42 weeks’ gestation, could reduce baby deaths.”

woman in labour on hospital bed

Credit: Getty

The authors of the study have said that several other smaller studies suggest risks to a baby increase significantly by 41 weeks. They concluded that women with low-risk pregnancies should be offered inductions “no later” than at 41 weeks.

They also estimated that for every 230 women induced at 41 weeks, one perinatal death would be prevented.

Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the National Childbirth Trust, said, “This research is welcome and adds to our knowledge about pregnancies that continue beyond 40 weeks. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to childbirth.

“Women should be provided with information about the benefits and risks of induction and their decisions respected.”