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You wouldn't take a cake out of the oven before it's ready, but how about that bun in the oven? For some pregnant women, the answer is "Sure!" In fact, 10 to 15 percent of all births in the U.S. are "early elective" deliveries (meaning prior to 39 weeks' gestation, via cesarean section or induction, without a clear medical reason), two new studies find -- and some hospitals report that number is as high as 44 percent.
But, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) staunchly advises against elective deliveries before 39 weeks. Term has long meant between 37 and 41 weeks, but this is a time frame for allowing normal, spontaneous labor to start without intervention, explains Caroline Signore, M.D., an ob-gyn with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, in Bethesda, Maryland. Elective, early deliveries can lead to problems for mom and baby that are uncommon in spontaneous deliveries. Because of this, many health experts refer to all babies born at 37 or 38 weeks as early term. Of course, if you have a condition such as preeclampsia or diabetes, whose risks outweigh the risks of an early delivery, it may be best to welcome the baby early -- and you should feel no guilt about that. But waiting until the final, er, stretch is often worth it. Read on to learn the downsides of rushing things.
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