A major study into women whose pregnancies go on past 40 weeks has been abandoned by Sweden after six newborns died.
Campaigners said they were saddened by the deaths and called on the country's government to immediately bring in new guidelines to “save more babies”.
Pregnancy typically lasts for around 40 weeks and there is a higher risk of stillbirth if women go over 42.
The NHS gives all of women who have not gone into labour by this point the opportunity to be induced.
The Swedish research, which was headed up Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska university hospital, planned to poll 10,000 women across 14 hospitals.
But after five stillbirths and one early death among the women who were permitted to carry on with pregnancies until the 43rd week, it was stopped a year ago.
Researchers concluded it would have been unethical to continue.
Angela Jones, managing director of Spadbarnsfonden, the Swedish Infant Death Foundation, told The Independent: “We want the Swedish government to act now. New guidelines are needed to save more babies. Early induction is one step in the right direction but we also need national audits over causes of death. They have got the information so what are they waiting for.”
Her colleague and chair of the organisation, Malin Asp, added: “Since they terminated the study due to ethical reasons, it is highly unethical not to go public with those results. There is potential to save babies’ lives.”
Professor Alexander Heazell, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK, said: “We are deeply saddened by reports of babies who died during a research trial in Sweden. The loss of a baby is a devastating tragedy for parents, to the wider family, and the healthcare professionals involved.
“While the findings of this trial have yet to be published, the reported results appear to be in line with what is already known – that pregnancies that continue to, or pass, 41 weeks are associated with an increase in the risk of stillbirth and perinatal death.
“Previous research – including from the largest review of stillbirth in late pregnancies – shows that most pregnancies and births passed the due date are usually safe and straightforward, but there is a small increase in stillbirth risk. Therefore, current UK guidance recommends that induction of labour should be offered to women with uncomplicated pregnancies who go beyond 41 weeks to avoid the risks of prolonged pregnancy, including stillbirth."
The consultant obstetrician, who is clinical director of Tommy’s research centre on stillbirth, said induction is a “common and safe procedure”.
Amy Gibbs, chief executive of the Birthrights charity, added: “All pregnant women are legally entitled to have a detailed, evidence-based and balanced discussion with their doctor or midwife about any proposed intervention in pregnancy or childbirth, including induction. This dialogue should cover the benefits, risks and alternative options, based on that woman’s individual needs and preferences, so she can make an informed choice about what’s right for her and her baby.”
Sahlgrenska hospital said it would alter its guidelines around pregnancy due to the findings of the study.
“We plan, as soon as we possibly can, to offer induction in week 41 to all women who go over term,” the hospital’s head of childbirth told Swedish TV channel, svt Nyheter.
Ruth Bender Atik, director of the Miscarriage Association, added: “Research investigators always have to watch out for serious adverse effects and it is absolutely proper to close research studies down if there is a strong suspicion of possible harm.”
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