- What is a full term pregnancy?
- Change in terminology for gestational weeks
- What if the labor starts before 39 or after 41 weeks of pregnancy?
- Tips to attain a full-term pregnancy
At 37 weeks, you are just two weeks away from full term. However, a good population of pregnant women goes for labor induction at this time, considering it is safe to deliver three weeks before the estimated date of delivery. Latest studies showing adverse neonatal outcomes for such deliveries have lead to the development of new designations for the ideal gestational age when it is safe to deliver the baby and avoid any complications.
What Is A Full Term Pregnancy?
A pregnancy that lasts for 40 weeks (i.e., 280 days) is considered as a full-term pregnancy. Generally, the due date is calculated by taking into account the first day of the last menstrual period. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have recently changed the gestational age terminology for births happening before 37 weeks of gestation.
According to the ACOG, a full-term pregnancy continues between 39 weeks and 0 days, and 40 weeks and 6 days (1). Babies born during this period are considered to be healthier than babies born before or after the suggested week. In case of twin or multiple pregnancies, 38 weeks of gestation is considered as the full term (2).
Considering the health issues the babies may encounter due to premature birth, the pregnancy week terminology has been revised for more clarity among patients and caregivers.
Revised Terminology For The Gestational Week
Earlier, full-term pregnancy referred to a pregnancy that lasted between 37 and 42 weeks, which was considered safe for birthing babies. However, recent studies indicate that the babies born before 39 weeks of pregnancy are at risk of developing several health issues as their organs are not fully developed by then. The 39-week time frame gives enough time for the baby to grow and develop properly (3).
One of the health issues in babies born early is breathing trouble, as the surfactants are still being produced. Even after 39 weeks, the liver continues to develop, and fat deposition under the skin continues to maintain the body temperature. For these reasons, pregnant women must not opt for early deliveries and doctors should inform them about the risks.
To create awareness about the risks of elective delivery before 39 weeks (due to non-medical reasons) and to ensure the birth of healthy babies, here are the new gestational week designations introduced by the society.
- Early term: 37 weeks, 0 days to 38 weeks, 6 days
- Full term: 39 weeks, 0 days to 40 weeks, 6 days
- Late term: 41 weeks, 0 days to 41 weeks, 6 days
- Postterm: 42 weeks, 0 days and beyond
In the next section, we tell you about the benefits of having a baby at full-term.
What Are The Benefits Of Full Term Pregnancy?
- Reduced morbidity and mortality rate
- No long-term illnesses
- Fewer respiratory problems
- Reduced risk of NICU admission
- No re-admissions to the hospital
- Improved weight gain
- Sleep longer
- More alert
- Cry less
- Have bigger brains
- Baby is born ready to breastfeed
Research also reveals that the longer the gestational age at the time of delivery, the higher the baby’s mental and psychomotor development would be.
What If The Labor Starts Before 39 weeks Or After 41 Weeks Of Pregnancy?
It is always best to wait for the labor to start naturally and avoid c-section or labor induction if there is no medical necessity. But sometimes, a woman may go into labor before 39 weeks due to unavoidable reasons such as breaking of the water bag, preeclampsia, early contractions, or fetal distress.
In some cases, the labor might get prolonged. If you pass 41 weeks of pregnancy without any signs of labor, then the doctor will induce labor. The fetus may develop health issues if it remains in the uterus past 41 weeks when it can be deprived of enough oxygen.
When the gestation period exceeds 41 weeks, there is inadequate oxygen supply by the placenta, the umbilical cord might get suppressed, and there will be a drop in the amniotic fluid level (6). In such cases, a biophysical profile or non-stress test will be done to monitor the baby’s well-being. Also, the baby will grow bigger after 41 weeks, which may reduce the chances of a vaginal delivery.
Therefore, it is best to try and have a full-term delivery naturally. Learn more about it next.
Tips To Attain A Full-Term Pregnancy
Here are some tips to help prevent a preterm or post-term baby:
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle
- Avoid smoking, alcohol and drug consumption
- Do not ask for labor induction for non-medical reasons
- Get prenatal care early and regularly
- In case of any discomfort or illness, contact your doctor
- Space your pregnancies properly. Have a gap of at least 18-24 months between two pregnancies
If you are almost near your due date, then just hang in there and wait for the labor to start on its own. If you are not clear about the due date, talk to your doctor about it and seek their help to learn about the right gestational age for delivery.
Do you have any tips on how to reach full-term? Tell us about it in the comment section below.