A cesarean delivery can seriously impact the health of the mother and child, but recent research may have uncovered a way to increase the odds of delivering your child naturally.

According to a new study, inducing labor at 39 weeks can significantly reduce the chances of a woman needing a cesarean (C-section) birth.

The research from Northwestern University was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The study authors said that inducing labor at 39 weeks for first-time mothers can significantly reduce the odds of undergoing this invasive surgery.

For this study, researchers tracked more than 6,100 women in 41 sites across the United States.

Half of the women were given an elective induction in the week before they were due.

The other women were allowed to start labor without any intervention.

Researchers said that women induced at 39 weeks experienced fewer cesarean births, lower rates of maternal and fetal complications, fewer newborns needing respiratory support, and reduced incidence of preeclampsia.

Dr. John Thoppil of River Place OB-GYN in Austin, Texas, told Healthline he was particularly impressed by how the women who had their labor induced benefited from significantly reduced rates of high blood pressure.

“The rate of hypertension during pregnancy was just nine percent in the induction group versus 14 percent in the group that was allowed to carry to term. That is really significant,” he said.

Thoppil explained that high blood pressure during pregnancy “can impact the mother’s long-term health by increasing the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease as they get older.”

The problems with C-sections

Nearly one in three women in the United States gives birth by cesarean delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A cesarean delivery is major surgery and can sometimes cause serious complications.

Since this procedure involves cutting into the abdomen and uterus to remove the baby, it can take up to six weeks for a woman to fully recover.

This can extend her hospital stay by several days or longer if there are complications.

“Complications of C-section can include infection, blood loss requiring transfusions, and injury to organs near the uterus,” Thoppil said.

He added that, in rare instances, a C-section can even carry the risk of losing the uterus, causing infertility.

Natural birth is good for the baby

With a cesarean delivery, the baby is not likely to acquire the full complement of the mother’s vaginal and gut microbes.

According to Thoppil, when a mother gives birth vaginally, the birth fluids pass on colonies of essential microbes to the baby.

These bacteria are essential for establishing the colonies of gut bacteria that ensure optimal priming of the child’s immune system and good digestive health.

“We’re finding out more and more how important the relationship we have with our microbiome (gut bacteria) is for our long-term health,” said Thoppil.

Previous research different

The findings of this new study go against previous research that suggested inducing labor before 41 weeks increased the risk of a cesarean delivery and the likelihood of serious complications.

Thoppil said this was reflected in his own experiences.

“Prior to the study, I was getting pushback from hospitals not wanting to allow inductions for purely elective reasons,” he said. “There were simply many less inductions being offered.”

Thoppil added that the main reason was specifically a belief that inducing labor increased the odds of a cesarean birth, something the new research refutes.

Sometimes a cesarean delivery is the only safe option

Although a natural birth is the safest and healthiest option for both mother and baby, it doesn’t mean that a cesarean delivery has no role in ensuring a safe delivery.

There are instances when a cesarean birth is required to ensure the health of both mother and child.

According to the March of Dimes, cases when a cesarean delivery can be needed include:

  • previously giving birth by cesarean
  • the presence of an infection, such as HIV or genital herpes
  • multiple births (twins or more)
  • the baby is too large for the birth canal

Thoppil said that his take-home message is that “Although previous data scared expectant mothers away from inducement because they were told it increased the rate of infection and C-section, we now have a very compelling argument to say that it is both safe and reasonable to induce labor.”