40 Weeks and Counting: Why the Length of Your Pregnancy Matters

How long is a full-term pregnancy?

Up until last month, a full-term pregnancy was considered anything from 37 to 42 weeks. This was based on the research that babies born in this timeframe tend to have a high survival rate with few complications. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has now changed the definition of a full-term pregnancy to only cover two weeks’ time: 39 weeks to 41 weeks. The main reason for the change is to eliminate the percentage of scheduled deliveries that occur before the 39-week mark. The new findings support the theory that weeks and days do matter in a pregnancy, and the time in the womb should not be cut short if unnecessary. However, if your baby is born naturally between 37 and 39 weeks, it still has a high survival rate and you should not worry too much. If your body goes into labor early, that usually means your baby is ready to be born.

What are the risks of a premature birth?

As mentioned, days and weeks can make a big difference in the short and long-term health of your baby. The most common complications of premature babies are: they have a hard time breathing, an increased risk of jaundice, trouble eating (sucking/swallowing), and lack of temperature regulation. Something else worth noting is that the part of the brain that is used for thinking doubles in size during the last few weeks of gestation. Premature babies also have an increased risk of having to be in the NICU and possible readmission to the hospital after they are discharged home. Of course, the earlier the baby is born, the higher the risk for all of the abovementioned problems. Many premature infants also have a higher occurrence of ADHD, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease later in life.

What are the risks of late-term birth?

If days and weeks can be substantial in the development of your baby, then the longer they stay in the better, right? Actually, that is not the case. Babies born after 41 weeks have just as many risks as pre-term babies, the risks are just different. Around 41 or 42 weeks, the placenta will start to break down. This can result in the baby not getting enough food or oxygen, which can lead to the baby’s death. The placenta may also fully separate from the uterus, which requires immediate delivery. Some other risks include the amniotic fluid dissipating, which eliminates the baby’s padding from the outside world, or the baby defecating in the womb, and then inhaling it upon delivery, which can lead to pneumonia or respiratory issues.

All of these factors make up reasons why the length of your pregnancy matters. If you have any questions about the length of your pregnancy, please consult your doctor. For personalized pregnancy tips, try out the babyQ pregnancy app.

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