Don't Schedule Delivery Before 39 Weeks
If you're pregnant and scheduling an induction or C-section, read this first. By James Keller, MD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital
In years past, obstetricians were focused on making sure our patients carried their babies to term, which meant any time after 37 weeks. Of primary concern was preventing early pre-term delivery. This is still the case, but the understanding of “full term” has now changed.
Published research has shown that carrying your baby to 39 weeks or longer can have a significant impact on his or her health. In fact, the March of Dimes published an article just last year, citing that the risk of newborn deaths is cut in half when those newborns are delivered after 39 weeks.
Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait™
At Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, we participate in The March of Dimes Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait™ education campaign, which encourages expectant mothers to wait until at least 39 weeks to induce labor or have a c-section, if it is needed.
Of course, there are situations when it is medically necessary for an expectant mother to deliver before 39 weeks. If the baby’s or the mother’s health is at risk, it only makes sense to deliver early. Likewise, most babies born between 37 and 40 weeks naturally are perfectly healthy. In those cases, we know that nature makes the right decision.
What is concerning is the fact that so many women today decide to forgo nature and opt for non-medically necessary elective inductions at less than 39 weeks when approximately 10% of those infants are born with mild to severe complications, regardless of race and ethnicity.
How much can really happen in two weeks?
We know that babies born too early are more at risk for health problems at birth and even later in life than those born after 39 weeks.
- The brain nearly doubles in weight during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
- Essential lung, liver and kidney development occurs during this time.
- Babies grow in the last two weeks, which means they are bigger at birth. Babies born at a healthy weight can stay warm much easier than those born small.
- Vision and hearing development may not be fully complete in babies born before 39 weeks.
- Babies born early cannot always suck and swallow, as well as stay awake, long enough to eat, which can impact their ability to thrive.
Why has “full term” changed from 37 to 39 weeks?
First of all, your due date is really just an estimate of when we believe you will deliver. That means scheduling a date to induce labor can result in delivering too early.
The other problem is that the medicine your doctor or midwife gives you to induce labor may not be effective, which means an increased risk for a c-section. It could also very likely mean that you will be delivering your baby before development has completed.
James Keller, MD, is in Maternal Fetal Medicine at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.