Giving birth on due date "less risky" for older mothers

Pregnant trying to sleep

New research suggests that the risk of stillbirth is reduced if women are given the opportunity to give birth on their due date

If you've ever been overdue while pregnant, then you'll know how uncomfortable and frustrating it can be. Currently, doctors will expect you to wait a couple of centuries weeks to see if labour starts by itself before they decide to intervene.

But new research, published in the journal, PLOS Medicine, suggests that women who are pregnant for the first time and aged over 35 should be induced on or around their due date to reduce the risk of complications, such as stillbirth and newborn death.

In the study of nearly 80,000 women in England, the rate of stillbirth or newborn death was reduced to eight per 10,000 pregnancies when women were induced earlier. This is compared with 26 per 10,000 when induction took place later.

Further research is needed to establish whether a policy change is worthwhile for the NHS and the women themselves. Prof Lesley Regan, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the implications of a policy change would be enormous for both parties. “While induction is safe and studies have shown no short-term adverse impact on mother or baby,” she said, “induction of labour represents an intervention, is associated with costs to the service, and can be a more prolonged process than spontaneous labour.”

More women are becoming mothers for the first time aged 35 or over (in 2015, nearly 40,000 women did so) – and there is a greater overall risk of birth complications for this group or women. The individual risk of birth complications for a first-time mother aged over 35 is still small.

Why labour might need to be induced

Labour can be induced because:

  • Your baby is overdue. Being pregnant for longer than 42 weeks could lead to a higher risk of stillbirth or problems for your baby. How overdue you are before being booked in for an induction will depend on your hospital's police – and your wishes. Being overdue is the most common reason for inducing labour.
  • Your waters have broken but labour hasn’t started yet. If labour doesn’t begin within 24 hours of your water breaking, there can be an increased risk of infection for you or your baby.
  • You or your baby have health problems, such as diabetes, pre-eclampsia or other acute or chronic conditions such as kidney disease or high blood pressure, or there’s any kind of risk to your baby’s health and they aren’t thriving.

Side effects and risks of induced labour

Being induced is very safe, and around one in three women who give birth will have been induced.

Like most medicines, those used to kickstart contractions can have side effects. Prostaglandins can make you feel feverish and nauseous, give you diarrhoea or make your vagina feel sore – hardly a walk in the park, then. Both prostaglandins and hormone drips can cause your womb to become hyperstimulated, meaning you experience contractions that are very intense, frequent or long-lasting. If this happens you'll be giving medication to calm your womb down, as it were.

It’s your choice whether you’re induced or not – you can say no if you want to. And it might be worth trying a few things that could help to bring on labour naturally before you go into hospital – the old, pineapple, sex and curry routine.