Doctors consider pregnancy full-term at 37 weeks gestation, and prior to this milestone, labor is considered preterm. During the final few weeks of pregnancy, a baby's brain and vital organs develop rapidly. Therefore, doctors typically don't induce labor at 36 weeks unless the need outweighs the risks of continuing the pregnancy. Inducing labor can create stronger and more frequent contractions, which can lead to a reduction in your baby's heart rate due to lower oxygen. Labor induction also doubles the likelihood of requiring a Cesarean section. When considering preterm induction, discuss the potential benefits and consequences with your health care provider to make an informed decision.
A mother's existing health condition, such as heart disease, hypertension, cancer or a seizure disorder, may lead to a labor induction at 36 weeks gestation. In later pregnancy, other maternal conditions develop that jeopardize the health and well-being of both the mother and baby. High blood pressure that arises during pregnancy, or gestational hypertension, points to a more serious pregnancy-related condition called preeclampsia when it develops along with protein in the urine. Both gestational hypertension and preeclampsia can cause a decrease in oxygen flow to the baby, lead to complications in labor and, in rare situations, cause stroke and seizures.
Several concerns surrounding the developing baby warrant an induction at 36 weeks. For example, a reduction in blood supply to the baby, called placental insufficiency, often results in reduced oxygen and nutrients and could lead to a labor induction. Low amniotic fluid may also warrant the induction of labor at 36 weeks gestation, as might severe rhesus (Rh) hemolytic disease. Severe fetal growth restriction is also cause to consider inducing labor early, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Your doctor might consider inducing labor at 36 weeks if you are carrying more than one baby. If your health care provider believes your babies are big enough, he may recommend the induction of labor prior to reaching full term rather than waiting for labor to start spontaneously. When you're carrying multiples, the placenta might stop working sufficiently after 36 weeks, increasing the risk of a stillborn birth. However, prior to the induction of labor, a course of steroid injections help mature the lungs of the premature infants to reduce breathing difficulties after birth.
Waiting It Out
While it might have been months since you’ve been able to see your toes, your back is screaming for relief and you’re more than anxious to meet your new baby, pregnancy discomforts are not a valid reason for inducing labor, particularly prematurely. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against an elective induction prior to 39 weeks gestation because your baby is more likely to experience problems such as breathing difficulties and infection, and you have an increased risk of Cesarean section. A preterm, pre-labor rupture of membranes was once indicated as a reason for induction. However, recent research suggests that there is no benefit to labor induction following a rupture between 34 and 37 weeks gestation. Research doesn't support the need to induce labor at 36 weeks if the doctor is concerned the baby might be getting too big; there is no proof early delivery is better for the baby, and it increases the risk of C-section.