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Why the last weeks of pregnancy count

May 31, 2012

Why the last weeks of pregnancy count

Seven days may not seem like a long time – but when it comes to your baby’s development, one week can make all the difference.

“Since 1979, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has cautioned against delivering before 39 weeks without a medical reason. There is a misconception that ‘nine months’ is  all the time your baby needs.” said Rachel Fischer, RN,  Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital director. “In reality, 10 months is best, that’s 40 weeks.”

Infants’ most critical development occurs in the last few weeks prior to delivery, especially in the lungs and the brain. That’s why Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital physicians and staff are encouraging women to wait until 39 weeks or later to have their babies, unless medically indicated.

“Women who choose an elective delivery before 39 weeks, whether it’s an induction or C-section, are 2-3 times more likely to have their babies spend time in our neonatal intensive care unit,” Fischer explained. “We’re waiting for their lungs and brain to catch up.” The idea of inducing labor or scheduling a Cesarean Section prior to 39 weeks is, in many cases, based on tradition, culture or convenience.

“A woman may say, ‘My mother had me at 38 weeks and never had any problems.’ Or, they like the idea of a scheduled, controlled delivery instead of the idea of going into labor  spontaneously,” Fischer said.

And while women may want to schedule an early elective delivery at 38 weeks, Fischer explains that those women should know their due date may not be exactly right. Even with an ultrasound, your due date can be off by as much as two weeks - meaning a baby you think is 38 weeks could really be only 36 weeks, resulting in a huge difference developmentally.

For instance, the March of Dimes web site explains that a baby’s brain at 35 weeks weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 40 weeks.

“Last year, Louisiana ranked 49th in birth outcomes nationally,” Fischer said. “That ranking is tied to the state’s high number of low birth weight babies as well as our high rate of NICU admissions, both of which can be tied to elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks.

“Hospitals around the country are working to reduce the number of elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks. Here at Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital, we have seen a significant decrease in those numbers in the last 12 months, just by increasing patient awareness.”

If a provider suggests you have your baby before 39 weeks, experts suggest asking these questions:

  • Is there a problem with my health or the health of my baby that may make me need to have my baby early?
  • Can I wait to have my baby until I’ve completed 39 weeks of pregnancy?
  • Why do you need to induce labor? How will you induce?
  • Will inducing labor increase the chance that I’ll need a C-section?
  • What problems would a C-section cause for me and my baby?
  • If I have a C-section now, will I have to have one with future pregnancies?

 “Talk to your doctor about your birth plan and tell them what is important to you,” Fischer said. “Explain what type of delivery you’d like to have – and when.”

For more information about why at least 39 weeks is best for your baby, visit www.marchofdimes.com

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