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The role of labor induction in modern obstetrics

Published:September 06, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2022.03.019
      A primary goal of obstetrical practice is the optimization of maternal and perinatal health. This goal translates into a seemingly simple assessment with regard to considerations of the timing of delivery: delivery should occur when the benefits are greater than those of continued pregnancy. In the absence of an indication for cesarean delivery, planned delivery is initiated with induction of labor. When medical or obstetrical complications exist, they may guide recommendations regarding the timing of delivery. In the absence of these complications, gestational age also has been used to guide delivery timing, given its association with both maternal and perinatal adverse outcomes. If there is no medical indication, delivery before 39 weeks has been discouraged, given its association with greater chances of adverse perinatal outcomes. Conversely, it has been recommended that delivery occur by 42 weeks of gestation, given the perinatal risks that accrue in the post-term period. Historically, a 39-week induction of labor, particularly for individuals with no previous birth, has not been routinely offered in the absence of medical or obstetrical indications. That approach was based on numerous observational studies that demonstrated an increased risk of cesarean delivery and other adverse outcomes among individuals who underwent labor induction compared to those in spontaneous labor. However, from a management and person-centered-choice perspective, the relevant comparison is between those undergoing planned labor induction at a given time vs those planning to continue pregnancy beyond that time. When individuals have been compared using that rubric—either in observational studies or randomized trials that have been performed in a wide variety of locations and populations— there has not been evidence that induction increases adverse perinatal or maternal outcomes. Conversely, even when the only indication for delivery is the achievement of a full-term gestational age, evidence suggests that multiple different outcomes, including cesarean delivery, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, neonatal respiratory impairment, and perinatal mortality, are less likely when induction is performed. This information underscores the importance of making the preferences of pregnant individuals for different birth processes and outcomes central to the approach to delivery timing.

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