To many women, having a baby at 37 weeks may seem about the same as having the baby at 39 weeks. Why endure another two weeks of backaches and swelling when you could induce labor?
Does it really make a difference for your child?
UVA obstetricians sometimes see expecting parents who want to schedule an induction at 37 or 38 weeks for logistical reasons. And that used to be considered OK.
But now doctors know that there’s a big difference between 37 and 39 weeks. Babies do best if delivered at 39 weeks or later.
The “Magical Gestational Age” of 39 Weeks
At 39 weeks, babies have better developed organs, including the brain and lungs, and:
- Maintain temperature better
- Eat better
- Have a lower risk of breathing problems
- Are less likely to need extensive medical care and interventions, including the neonatal intensive care unit
“It’s important to mention that most babies born spontaneously or due to medical necessity between 37-39 weeks do well,” says obstetrician Vanessa Gregg, MD. “But statistically, 39 weeks or beyond is best for babies.”
That’s why UVA does not schedule expecting moms for elective early deliveries, which is induction or Cesarean section before 39 weeks. The March of Dimes recently recognized UVA and just 12 other hospitals in Virginia for low elective early delivery rates and for implementing a delivery policy.
UVA had no elective early deliveries in 2012 and the first half of 2013 (numbers are not yet in for the second half of last year), compared to a national mean of almost 8 percent of all births.
“When we explain to women and their families that babies are better off if born after 39 weeks, they’re receptive to waiting until that magical gestational age for delivery,” Gregg says.
However, deliveries before 39 weeks can still happen if the mother goes into labor on her own. There are also medical reasons to induce, including:
- Maternal high blood pressure
- Maternal diabetes
- Twins or other multiples
- Fetal anomalies that need special care outside the womb
- Abnormal placental development
- Prior uterine surgeries that make the uterus too fragile to wait
- Growth restrictions due to the fetus getting too big
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