It is commonly said that pregnancy lasts nine months. When you talk to obstetricians and midwives, you will find out that they generally view a pregnancy to be at term from 38 weeks to 41 weeks, and sometimes even at 37 weeks. In fact, many doctors will start discussing labor induction as soon as 38 weeks gestation. A new study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that it is time to rethink what "full term pregnancy" really means.
While it was previously thought that babies born between 37 and 41 weeks had the best outcomes, meaning fewest deaths in this context, the new study suggests that babies do much better from 38 weeks to 41 weeks. The study looked at 46,329,018 births from 37 to 41 weeks pregnancy which took place between 1995 and 2006. The result? Researchers found that babies born between 37 and 39 weeks are at higher risk than babies born later, and that the risks go down each week.
Study author Uma M. Reddy from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development in Bethesda, MD, said: "A truly elective delivery should wait until at least 39 weeks. We don't stop labor at 37 weeks, and the majority of babies will do fine. But if nothing is going on and you are doing well, waiting to 39 weeks is best for you and your baby." While the risk of a baby dying at 37 weeks was still relatively small at 3.9 per 1,000 live births, it was shown to be more than double the rate than at 40 weeks pregnancy 1.9 deaths in every 1,000 births.
Doctors are already saying that we need to reconsider what "term" means. If your doctor starts discussing induction with you at 38 weeks (not unusual in many labor and delivery departments!), you may want to refer him or her to this new study and put the birth off for another couple of weeks, till you go into labor naturally.