If you’re pregnant, it’s understandable that you may be eagerly counting down the days until you can meet your little one face to face. Or, maybe you’ve simply hit a “pregnancy wall” and feel that you are READY to deliver by week 36. Either way, hang in there. Experts agree that playing the waiting game during pregnancy may serve you and your baby well in the long run.
If you’re thinking of trying to schedule an early elective delivery with your obstetrician, the March of Dimes and medical professionals alike recommend not rushing your baby’s birth date. Research has shown that at least 39 weeks is best for a baby’s development.
“It’s important to remember that babies don’t develop in parts and pieces, but as a whole,” says maternal fetal medicine specialist Brian Rinehart, M.D., who is director of the Maternal High Risk Program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “This development begins at conception and continues throughout the pregnancy, and important things happen to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Even though those last few weeks of pregnancy can be trying, it’s in the baby’s best interest to make it to 39.”
Rinehart also notes that sometimes it’s difficult to know just when a woman has gotten pregnant. Even with an ultrasound, a woman’s due date can be off by as much as two weeks. If you schedule to induce labor or have a cesarean birth (c-section), and your date is off by a week or two your baby may be born too early.
Rinehart acknowledges that not every woman has a choice as to when to have her baby. If complications arise during pregnancy, a woman has co-existing medical conditions or the baby’s health is compromised in utero, an early delivery may be the best option. All are situations that warrant an important conversation between a mom-to-be and her doctor.
“Every pregnancy should be individually managed by the doctor and patient involved,” Rinehart adds. “We know that there is a difference in outcomes at 37 to 39 weeks based upon whether labor occurs naturally or the birth process is medically induced, but a woman that goes into spontaneous labor at term ¾ but prior to 39 weeks ¾ should not worry that her baby isn’t yet 39 weeks. Nevertheless, if a woman’s water hasn’t broken, if labor hasn’t begun on its own, if there are no medical or obstetrical problems, there’s typically no reason for a woman to be delivered before 39 weeks.”
What happens up to 39 weeks that is so important?
The March of Dimes provides this look at a baby’s late-term development:
- Important organs, like the brain, lungs and liver, get the time they need to develop.
- Vision and hearing problems are less likely to occur after birth.
- More weight can be gained in the womb. Babies born at a healthy weight have an easier time staying warm than babies born too small.
- A baby can suck, swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after birth. Babies born early sometimes don’t have the reflex capabilities necessary to do these things.
The bottom line is babies born too early may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born later. Being pregnant 39 weeks gives your baby’s body the all-important time it needs to grow. A healthy baby is worth the wait.