Rates of induced labor declined across the board since 2006 for expectant mothers at 35 to 38 weeks of gestation, with the greatest decline at 38 weeks, researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found.
This is good news for the health of these babies, who can face serious health problems when delivered preterm, said Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes.
Babies born early are 1.5 to two times more likely to die during their first year of life, compared to babies delivered following a full term of 39 weeks or more, he said.
"There's this feeling that we've done so well with our premature babies, we've been seduced by the advances and think it's safe to induce delivery early," McCabe said. "We've ignored the fact that there are significant risks of illness and death in late preterm and early term babies."
The largest decline in induced labor occurred for early term births at 37 to 38 weeks, which fell 12 percent between 2006 and 2012, the CDC reports. Late preterm births at 34 to 36 weeks of gestation declined by 4 percent.
This decrease comes at a time when medical societies are raising concerns about unnecessary early deliveries.
The rate of induced labor more than doubled between 1990 and 2010, from nearly 10 percent of births to just under 24 percent. While some of these induced births were needed to preserve the life of mother and child, many also occurred to better fit the birth into the busy schedules of the parents or the doctor, McCabe said.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't recommend induced deliveries prior to 39 weeks of pregnancy without a clear medical reason.
Image: Woman in delivery room, via Shutterstock