Carrying Pregnancy to 39 Weeks: Is It Worth It? Yes!

Video explains the benefits of waiting until 39 weeks or later to induce labor

Sonogram with text "Many pregnant women are now requesting to deliver before 39 weeks..."Is It Worth It?—new videos from the NICHD National Child and Maternal Health Education Program (NCMHEP), explain the benefits of carrying a pregnancy to at least 39 weeks unless there is a medical reason to deliver earlier.

“Full-term” is defined as birth between 37 and 41 weeks of pregnancy, and many pregnant women are requesting that their health care providers deliver the baby during the early weeks of that full-term period. But research shows that babies born at 37 and 38 weeks are at greater risk for health problems than are babies born at 39 weeks or later. Carrying a pregnancy to 39 weeks or more gives the best health outcomes for mother and baby.

The 30-second video External Web Site Policy features Dr. Catherine Y. Spong, Associate Director for Extramural Research at the NICHD. A 60-second video External Web Site Policy version also includes Dr. Debra Bingham of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, one of the more than 30 national organizations that participate in the Institute’s NCMHEP Coordinating Committee.

The videos explain that babies go through important development processes, including major brain growth, during the final weeks of pregnancy. For example, a baby’s brain at 35 weeks of pregnancy weighs only two-thirds of what it will weight at 39 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. Inducing labor without a medical reason before 39 weeks could cut short baby’s important final growth spurt.

The NICHD created NCMHEP to provide a forum for reviewing, translating, and disseminating new research in the field of maternal and child health. The videos were produced as part of the program’s focus on late preterm birth and elective deliveries before 39 weeks. “Elective” deliveries are planned, non-emergency deliveries on dates chosen by a woman and her health care provider.

“Pregnancy—we call it 9 months, but in actuality it’s 10 months,” Dr. Spong explains in the video. And Dr. Bingham adds “It’s important that we not just try to pick a date on the calendar and say, ‘That’s when I’m going to have my baby.’ For most healthy women, the body will go into labor at the time that’s best suited for the baby’s brain development and for the baby’s health.”

Members of the NCMHEP Coordinating Committee will join the NICHD in promoting the videos in a variety of ways, including online communities, websites, blogs, social networking sites, and through the NICHD YouTube channel External Web Site Policy.

Is it worth it to carry a pregnancy to at least 39 weeks if there is no medical reason to deliver earlier? NCMHEP’s answer is a loud and clear: Yes!

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Originally Posted: January 31, 2013


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