Is Labor Induction Safe at 39 Weeks?

By: Jennifer Cole | Induction | January 3, 2021

Is the reason this blog caught your eye have to do with the fact that at your last prenatal appointment your doctor recommended inducing your labor at 39 weeks instead of allowing you to go into labor naturally? Did this recommendation totally throw you because you’ve had an uncomplicated first pregnancy? Are you wondering, “If I’m healthy and baby’s healthy, then why would my doctor want to induce me a week before my due date?”

If this scenario more or less describes your situation, be aware that it’s not uncommon these days for OB/GYN’s throughout the country to recommend that healthy birthing people expecting their first child induce their labor at 39 weeks gestation vs. waiting to go into labor naturally. The reason? According to ACOG (the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology), new research suggests that induction for healthy mothers at 39 weeks in their first full-term pregnancies may reduce the risk of cesarean birth. With this research study in mind, some OB/GYN’s have adopted this guideline and recommend induction to their first-time parents with uncomplicated pregnancies.

Why Choose Medicated V.S. Natural?

But is it safe to induce labor instead of letting things happen naturally on their own? After all, hasn’t everything you’ve read about childbirth up to this point stressed the fact that your body and your baby know what to do and it’s preferable to avoid interventions whenever possible (and let’s face it, inducing labor is way up there on the list of interventions)? While the answer to this question generally is yes, inductions performed at 39 weeks gestation are relatively safe for mother and baby, this answer in no way provides a complete picture. Be advised that it’s likely your labor will take longer than it would have had you gone into labor on your own. The reason is that when you go into labor naturally your baby’s lungs secrete a hormone which signals to your body that baby is ready for the world outside the womb, thereby kickstarting labor. This isn’t the case with an induction. Depending on how ready your body and baby are for labor, it may take longer (sometimes a lot longer) for things to get going. You should also know that an induction increases the likelihood of needing pain medications and, ironically, generally increases the likelihood of having a C-section (a US study looking at 7,800 first time mothers found those who had their labor induced were twice as likely to need a c-section compared to women who went into labor spontaneously).

The Methods of Induction

There are various ways that inductions are started. Sometimes a cervix softening pill such as Cytotec or Cervidil is inserted at the base of the cervix in order to artificially begin effacement and dilation; other times they may insert and fill a foley balloon with fluid above your cervix to put pressure on it to begin dilation mechanically. Sometimes it may be some combination of the two. But in order for the foley bulb to be used you have to be dilated and 39 weeks may be to early for your body to have started that yet.

Most Importantly.. Get Educated

If you fall into a low risk category, it’s important for you to have all the facts before making any decision on whether or not to agree to an induction. After seeking evidence-based information and understanding all the pros and cons involved with the factors particular to your pregnancy, you may decide that an induction is worth it if it can lower the risk of a cesarean birth; conversely you might decide that you’d rather wait and let your body start labor on its own. Ultimately this is a decision only you and your partner should make to ensure what’s best for you and your baby.

The Birth Education Center offers an online Induction 101 Course. Click here for more information.

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About the author:
Jennifer Cole CD(DONA) DONA Certified Birth Doula and Hypnobabies Certified HypnoDoula supporting families throughout San Diego County.


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