Healthy first-time mothers who induce labor at 39 weeks pregnant are less likely to undergo a cesarean delivery (C-section), according to a new study from the National Institute of Health.

The study of more than 6,100 women in the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's (NICHD) Maternal Fetal Medicine Units Network—of which Cleveland's MetroHealth system is a member—found that C-section births were less frequent (19 percent) among mothers who chose to induce at 39 weeks versus the so-called expectant management group (22 percent).

Mothers in the induced group also showed a decreased risk of pregnancy-related blood pressure disorders such as preeclampsia, and their children were less likely to need help breatihng during their first three days outside the womb.

Current health guidelines recommend women avoid electing to induce labor without a medical reason prior to 41 weeks gestation, claiming such activity could actually increase the need for a C-section. However, the results of the study paint a very different picture.

“Many people believe that induction of labor increases your chance of having a C-section and are also concerned that it may increase the risk to their child,” Dr. Edward Chien, who directed the study, said. “This study demonstrates that the overall risk for C-section is actually lower if induced than if you waited for labor to occur on its own.”

Health officials now believe this could lead to more woman choosing to induce labor at 39 weeks, which has become more common in recent years.

"Patients want to have control over their pregnancy,” Dr. Chien continued. “Up until now, many providers were hesitant to electively deliver women. This data provides evidence for allowing elective induction of labor in those individuals who choose it. I think patients will appreciate the greater autonomy.”