THOUSANDS of expectant mums should be induced a week earlier to help prevent avoidable baby deaths, according to an NHS watchdog.
Experts claim earlier intervention for women past their due date will “make birth safer for them and their babies”.
The UK is in the bottom half of the table for stillbirth rates in the Western world.
The normal term for pregnancy is considered to be 40 weeks.
To prevent potentially fatal complications, NHS guidelines currently recommend low-risk women are induced between 41 and 42 weeks.
It normally involves administering a hormone to kick-start contractions.
But new draft advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence state medics should intervene at exactly 41 weeks without delay.
Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “It’s vitally important that pregnant women faced with the possibility of induced labour are offered advice based on the latest evidence.
“By advising induced labour one week earlier, we can help ensure that women and babies are safer from harm and have the best possible outcomes during birth.”
The watchdog claims earlier interventions can slash the risk of stillbirth and neonatal death, caesarean delivery and tots being rushed to intensive care.
But it said the final decision to try and bring on labour should always be down to the woman.
Around one in three Brit babies are born following induction.
Clea Harmer, Chief Executive at Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity), said: “We need the best evidence to get the timing right for when to deliver a baby, balancing the risks of earlier delivery against the risks of waiting.
“Many bereaved parents have told Sands they believe earlier delivery might save their baby’s life.
"We hope this Nice review of the latest research evidence will help to get that judgement on timing right more often, avoiding more tragic baby deaths.”
Stillbirth affects around one in 250 UK pregnancies – or 2,800 a year.
UK rates in 2016 lagged behind much of the Western world, coming 21 out of 35 high-income countries.
Dr Pat O’Brien, consultant obstetrician and Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “This proposed update takes into account the increasing body of evidence that pregnancies that reach, or pass, 41 weeks are associated with a small increase in the risk of stillbirth and perinatal death and that induction of labour reduces this risk.
“Induction of labour is a common and safe procedure.”
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