New Moms

OK to Induce Labor Without Medical Reason?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Expectant mothers will often have labor induced if they are a week or more past their due date -- or if there is evidence the baby may be distressed in utero. For example, if a baby's heart rate is too high or too low a doctor will induce. Other medical reasons for induction include low levels of amniotic fluid. But what if a woman or her doctor want to induce for non-medical reasons?

A new study quoted in USA Today indicates that up to 40% of deliveries are inductions without a medical reason. It's becoming more and more common to hear a woman say her doctor decided to induce because he or she was going to be out of town on the due date.

One commenter on a parenting discussion site said she and her doctor agreed to induce labor because he was going to be at a soccer tournament on her due date, and the expectant mom didn't want another doctor in his practice to deliver her baby. Another commenter said she chose to induce because it was the week before Christmas, and also because the planning made it easier for her to arrange childcare for her one-year-old son in advance.

One grey area: big babies. If a baby is going to be a 9- or 10-pounder, or even bigger, is it a good idea to induce before baby gets any bigger, or should doctor and mother wait for Nature to potentially take its course? One school of thought is that a woman's body usually does not make a baby that's too big for her to push out; another is that a woman shouldn't have to subject herself to delivering a larger-than-average baby in these days of medical advancement. Is a potentially "too-big" baby a medical reason for induction, or should moms let baby grow as much as he or she can before the birth process kicks in on its own?

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Is it always a good idea to induce labor without a medical reason? No, says Dr. Alan Fleishman, senior vice president and medical director of the March of Dimes Foundation. "The last few weeks of a pregnancy are critical to the development of the baby's brain, lungs and liver," he told USA Today. "Babies born just a few weeks early have feeding problems, jaundice, inability to hold temperature and tremendous increased costs. Every week counts."

Also, unless the expectant mother has had an ultrasound in her first trimester, the baby's actual gestational age may be off by up to two weeks, meaning that if a doctor elects to deliver too early, the baby may actually be born before 37 weeks gestation - making him or her premature. 

Induction can lead to C-sections if the mother's body doesn't respond to the methods used to induce labor - typically a pitocin drip, sweeping of her membranes, and breaking of her waters. Most mothers weather C-sections well, healing quickly and experiencing no ill effects, but others may feel traumatized, or feel that they didn't get the birth experience they wanted. 

Of course, there are also plenty of instances in which a doctor elects to induce an expectant mother without a good medical reason, and she ends up having an uncomplicated labor and delivering a healthy baby.