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Early induction may help large babies avoid birth injury

A recent study on labor and delivery practices for large babies has implications for pregnant women and their doctors in New Mexico. Especially large babies can experience a number of complications during delivery. One that is of particular concern is shoulder dystocia, in which the baby's head is delivered but one or both shoulders get stuck, preventing the rest of the body from emerging. Babies in this situation are at risk for fractures, nerve damage and even suffocation. While shoulder dystocia occurs in about 1 percent of normal-size births, the rate climbs to 10 percent for births of oversized infants.

The study, conducted in Europe, sought to determine whether early induction of labor, defined as occurring at 37 or 38 weeks of gestation rather than 39, could help reduce the incidence of shoulder dystocia in large infants. Using a sample of 800 women whose babies were large for their gestational age, researchers randomly selected about half for early induction and monitored the rest carefully until they went into natural labor or needed to be induced for other reasons.

In the end, shoulder dystocia occurred in about 2 percent of births in the early induction group, compared to 6 percent of the monitored group. While not conclusive, these results suggest that early induction of labor may help prevent dystocia in deliveries of large infants. The decision to induce labor before full term always involves a balancing act, however, as the benefits of avoiding dystocia must be weighed against other problems associated with pre-term delivery, like incomplete lung development.

Parents of a child who suffered a birth injury during labor may wish to consult an attorney for guidance on pursuing a medical malpractice claim. Evidence from studies like the one described above could be helpful in making the case that alternative treatments or strategies should have been used.

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