Background: Induction of labor is on the rise in the U.S., increasing from 9.5 percent in 1990 to 22.1 percent in 2004. Although, it is not entirely clear what proportion of these inductions are elective (i.e. without a medical indication), the overall rate of induction of labor is rising faster than the rate of pregnancy complications that would lead to a medically indicated induction. However, the maternal and neonatal effects of induction of labor are unclear. Many studies compare women with induction of labor to those in spontaneous labor. This is problematic, because at any point in the management of the woman with a term gestation, the clinician has the choice between induction of labor and expectant management, not spontaneous labor. Expectant management of the pregnancy involves nonintervention at any particular point in time and allowing the pregnancy to progress to a future gestational age. Thus, women undergoing expectant management may go into spontaneous labor or may require indicated induction of labor at a future gestational age.
Objectives: The Stanford-UCSF Evidence-Based Practice Center examined the evidence regarding four Key Questions: 1) What evidence describes the maternal risks of elective induction versus expectant management? 2) What evidence describes the fetal/neonatal risks of elective induction versus expectant management? 3) What is the evidence that certain physical conditions/patient characteristics are predictive of a successful induction of labor? and 4) How is a failed induction defined?
Methods: We performed a systematic review to answer the Key Questions. We searched MEDLINE® (1966-2007) and bibliographies of prior systematic reviews and the included studies for English language studies of maternal and fetal outcomes after elective induction of labor. We evaluated the quality of included studies. When possible, we synthesized study data using random effects models. We also evaluated the potential clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness of elective induction of labor versus expectant management of pregnancy labor at 41, 40, and 39 weeks' gestation using decision-analytic models.
Results: Our searches identified 3,722 potentially relevant articles, of which 76 articles met inclusion criteria. Nine RCTs compared expectant management with elective induction of labor. We found that overall, expectant management of pregnancy was associated with an approximately 22 percent higher odds of cesarean delivery than elective induction of labor (OR 1.22, 95 percent CI 1.07–1.39; absolute risk difference 1.9, 95 percent CI: 0.2–3.7 percent). The majority of these studies were in women at or beyond 41 weeks of gestation (OR 1.21, 95 percent CI 1.01–1.46). In studies of women at or beyond 41 weeks of gestation, the evidence was rated as moderate because of the size and number of studies and consistency of the findings. Among women less than 41 weeks of gestation, there were three trials which reported no difference in risk of cesarean delivery among women who were induced as compared to expectant management (OR 1.73; 95 percent CI: 0.67–4.5, P=0.26), but all of these trials were small, non-U.S., older, and of poor quality. When we stratified the analysis by country, we found that the odds of cesarean delivery were higher in women who were expectantly managed compared to elective induction of labor in studies conducted outside the U.S. (OR 1.22; 95 percent CI 1.05–1.40) but were not statistically different in studies conducted in the U.S. (OR 1.28; 95 percent CI 0.65–2.49). Women who were expectantly managed were also more likely to have meconium-stained amniotic fluid than those who were electively induced (OR 2.04; 95 percent CI: 1.34–3.09). Observational studies reported a consistently lower risk of cesarean delivery among women who underwent spontaneous labor (6 percent) compared with women who had an elective induction of labor (8 percent) with a statistically significant decrease when combined (OR 0.63; 95 percent CI: 0.49–0.79), but again utilized the wrong control group and did not appropriately adjust for gestational age. We found moderate to high quality evidence that increased parity, a more favorable cervical status as assessed by a higher Bishop score, and decreased gestational age were associated with successful labor induction (58 percent of the included studies defined success as achieving a vaginal delivery anytime after the onset of the induction of labor; in these instances, induction was considered a failure when it led to a cesarean delivery).
In the decision analytic model, we utilized a baseline assumption of no difference in cesarean delivery between the two arms as there was no statistically significant difference in the U.S. studies or in women prior to 41 0/7 weeks of gestation. In each of the models, women who were electively induced had better overall outcomes among both mothers and neonates as estimated by total quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) as well as by reduction in specific perinatal outcomes such as shoulder dystocia, meconium aspiration syndrome, and preeclampsia. Additionally, induction of labor was cost-effective at $10,789 per QALY with elective induction of labor at 41 weeks of gestation, $9,932 per QALY at 40 weeks of gestation, and $20,222 per QALY at 39 weeks of gestation utilizing a cost-effectiveness threshold of $50,000 per QALY. At 41 weeks of gestation, these results were generally robust to variations in the assumed ranges in univariate and multi-way sensitivity analyses. However, the findings of cost-effectiveness at 40 and 39 weeks of gestation were not robust to the ranges of the assumptions. In addition, the strength of evidence for some model inputs was low, therefore our analyses are exploratory rather than definitive.
Conclusions: Randomized controlled trials suggest that elective induction of labor at 41 weeks of gestation and beyond may be associated with a decrease in both the risk of cesarean delivery and of meconium-stained amniotic fluid. The evidence regarding elective induction of labor prior to 41 weeks of gestation is insufficient to draw any conclusion. There is a paucity of information from prospective RCTs examining other maternal or neonatal outcomes in the setting of elective induction of labor. Observational studies found higher rates of cesarean delivery with elective induction of labor, but compared women undergoing induction of labor to women in spontaneous labor and were subject to potential confounding bias, particularly from gestational age. Such studies do not inform the question of how elective induction of labor affects maternal or neonatal outcomes. Elective induction of labor at 41 weeks of gestation and potentially earlier also appears to be a cost-effective intervention, but because of the need for further data to populate these models our analyses are not definitive. Despite the evidence from the prospective, RCTs reported above, there are concerns about the translation of such findings into actual practice, thus, there is a great need for studying the translation of such research into settings where the majority of obstetric care is provided.