NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2007

A few years back, researchers at Intermountain Health were surprised to learn how often pregnant women and their doctors decided to induce labor for non-medical reasons -- typically for the comfort of the woman or the convenience of the doctor.

  • They found that about 6,000 of the 30,000 deliveries in the Utah-based health system were elective inductions.
  • Of the induced deliveries, more than a quarter occurred before 39 weeks of gestation -- contrary to commonly accepted guidelines based on risks to the baby.

When the researchers first alerted the docs to this, not much happened.  Individual obstetricians hadn't observed much difference in the babies' health when labor was induced a little bit before 39 weeks.

Then the researchers crunched the data a little harder to see how the newborns fared:

  • The analysis showed that 6.7 percent of newborns induced at 37 weeks ended up in intensive care, versus 3.4 percent of those induced at 38 weeks and 2.5 percent of those induced at 39 weeks.
  • The percentage who wound up on ventilators fell from 1.9 percent to 0.7 percent and then to 0.4 percent.
  • The analysis won the doctors over, and in a matter of months the percentage of elective inductions before 39 weeks fell to less than 10 percent; the rate is now below 5 percent.

Source: Jacob Goldstein, "Babies Are Worth Waiting For," Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2007.

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