New Research Suggests Full Term May be Later than Thought

little feets
Creative Commons License photo credit: j2dread

The conventional wisdom tells us that, once you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, it’s just fine for your baby to be born at any time. You’re considered “full term,” and you’re supposed to be done with any of the risks associated with having a preemie. While that may be true to a degree, some new research is suggesting that there may be some significant risks during the first year of life for babies born in the 37th or 38th week of pregnancy.

The study suggests that there are significant difference in terms of infant health between babies born during those two weeks and the traditional “final” two weeks of pregnancy (weeks 39 and 40). The study looked at data on over 46 million babies born over the course of a decade in the United States. Between the years of 1995 and 2006, there was a marked decline in infants being born at 40 weeks or later. That number decreased down from 60 percent of births to 54 percent of births. Babies born in the “early term” (week 37 and 38) rose during the same period from 22 percent to 29 percent.

Those same infants were twice as likely to die during the first year of life. In the study, there were 3.9 deaths for every thousand births at week 37 and 38, while there were only 1.9 deaths per thousand births after 40 weeks.

Generally speaking, there were some patterns to these fatalities. They tended to be caused by SIDS, birth defects, accidents, or lack of oxygen before or during birth.

There are some instance in which there is a medical reason to have an early delivery, of course. That said, this research suggests that scheduling a delivery prior to the 39th week of pregnancy could create significant risk. In cases where the mother or baby are in immediate danger, obviously, it’s much more expedient to incur the additional risk associated with early term birth than it is to deal with a more immediate and statistically significant risk.

The study’s results were similar for babies all across the racial spectrum, as well. Regardless of ethnicity, it seems that the later the birth takes place, the lower the risk for death during that first year of life.

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