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June 2010 | 0 Comments | Print

Why the last weeks of pregnancy count

With Elbert Nelson, MD, Medical Director, Ob/Gyn with The Christ Hospital

Over the past several years, more births have been scheduled a little early for non-medical reasons. But experts are learning that this can cause problems for both mom and baby. There are lots of important things happening to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy. For example, your baby’s brain and lungs are still growing.

You might not have a choice about when to have your baby. If there are problems with your pregnancy or your baby’s health, you may need to have your baby earlier. But if your pregnancy is healthy and you’re planning to schedule your baby’s birth, it’s best to stay pregnant for at least 39 weeks. Babies born too early have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born full term. Thirty-nine weeks gives babies all the time they need to grow before being born.

Reaching full term

According to Elbert Nelson, MD, Medical Director, Ob/Gyn with The Christ Hospital, here’s why babies need 39 weeks:

  • Important organs, like their brain, lungs and liver, get all the time they need to develop.
  • They are less likely to have vision and hearing problems after birth.
  • They have time to gain more weight in the womb. Babies born at a healthy weight have an easier time staying warm than babies born too small.
  • They can suck and swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he’s born. Babies born early sometimes can’t do these things.

In addition, scheduling an early birth for non-medical reasons can cause problems:

  • Your due date may not be exactly right. Sometimes it’s hard to know just when you got pregnant. If you schedule to induce labor or have a Cesarean birth (c-section) and your date is off by a week or two, your baby may be born too early.
  • Inducing labor may not work. If your labor is induced, the medicine your doctor or nurse midwife gives you may not start your labor. When this happens, you may need to have a c-section.
  • A c-section can cause problems for your baby. Babies born by c-section may have more breathing and other medical problems than babies born by vaginal birth.
  • C-sections can cause problems in future pregnancies. Once you have a c-section, you may be more likely in future pregnancies to have a c-section. The more c-sections you have, the more problems you and your baby may have, including problems with the placenta.
  • A c-section is major surgery for mom. It takes longer for you to recover from a c-section than from a vaginal birth. You can expect to spend two to four days in the hospital after a c-section. Then you’ll need about four to six weeks after you go home to fully recover. You also could have complications from the surgery, like infections and bleeding. So it’s important to stay in touch with your health care provider even after you go home.

To learn more about the importance of reaching full term, talk to your health care provider or visit

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