A full-term pregnancy used to mean 40 weeks from the first date of your last menstrual cycle, and anything between 37 to 42 weeks was once considered a perfectly healthy outcome for babies. But now the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) have joined super-doctor forces to create four new more specific terms to describe the length of a woman's pregnancy: early term, full term, late term, and post term.
The thinking is that the last few weeks of gestation are crucial, because that's when major things develop, like the baby's brain and lungs, so any baby born before 38 weeks and six days is considered pre term. Full term is 39 weeks to 40 weeks and six days. Late term is from 41 weeks to 41 weeks and six days, and post term is anything over 42 weeks.
The organizations are hoping that physicians will start adopting the terminology in order to not only improve the care given to pregnant women and their newborns, but to also find more precise data in research on newborn health. Of course, if you go into labor early, there's nothing you can do about it. But based on this new terminology, the organizations are encouraging doctors to wait to perform planned C-sections until a woman is at least 39 weeks along.
A spokesman for The March of Dimes Foundation said the new terms will be helpful in 'eliminating confusion about how long an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy should last." Aside from the health issues involved with pre-term pregnancies (breathing issues, infections, feeding difficulties, vision problems, and gastrointestinal illnesses), The Daily Mail reports that "a joint study published last year by Columbia University Medical Centre and the New York Presbyterian Hospital, children born at 37 or 38 weeks did worse in academic tests than those born just a week or two later. The additional time in the womb results in more brain development and, in later life, better scores in mathematics and reading tests."
The 2012 study compared birth records and test scores for 128,000 eight year olds born in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who were all born between the normal 37 and 41 weeks of gestation. Compared with those born at 41 weeks, children born at 37 weeks faced a 33 percent increased chance of having severe reading difficulties and a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in maths. Those born at 38 weeks fared only slightly better than those born at 37 weeks.
So the takeaway here is that no matter how much we'd like to hurry up our pregnancies and have the baby already (oh, those last weeks are hard!), the more time your little one is inside you, the better for his or her development.
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Image of pregnant woman courtesy of Shutterstock.