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Full term pregnancies safer for babies

Ladies, if you could choose your delivery date, did you know that just a few days could make a tremendous difference in the health and survival of your child? A recent study found that babies who are delivered before 39 weeks can be at risk for significant health issues.

“Early term pregnancy is a new idea,” says Lillian Schapiro, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont Hospital. “After 37 weeks of pregnancy, we used to think babies would be fine.

However, we have seen a lot of problems immediately following delivery and through that first year with babies who were born at 37 to 39 weeks. Until you have the baby crossing over that line to 39 weeks, that is all early term. Full term begins at 39 weeks.” In the past, Dr. Schapiro says, statistics showed that one in five babies were born after 36 or 37 weeks.

Now, one in three are born that early. Part of the reason is that “we are so in control of when women have babies. We have learned that it is dangerous for the baby to be born before it has finished its 39 weeks. The most crucial element at the end of a pregnancy is a baby’s lung development.” Although women can choose to schedule their baby’s birth with the consent of their doctor, most women right now are not having elective caesarian sections, says Dr. Schapiro.

“For women who have had a c-section in the past, we recommend that they have another c-section. Those are not scheduled before they complete 39 weeks.” When a woman goes into labor on her own after 36 or 37 weeks, doctors do not typically stop the labor, she says. “There hasn’t been any recommendation yet to move the date for when you allow spontaneous labor.” If a woman asks to be induced early, “we tell her that she needs to wait until the 39th week. Ideally, we want to see people deliver between 39 and 40 weeks.”

Doctors have found that it is safest for babies to be born after 39 weeks if the pregnancy is uncomplicated. If you have any questions about your pregnancy, be sure to talk with your doctor.

More about this study

  • The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the March of Dimes.
  • Researchers analyzed data about more than 46 million infants born in the United States between 1995 and 2006.
  • They found that infants born at 37 weeks were twice as likely to die within one year compared to babies born at 40 weeks.

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