In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month and World Prematurity Day, we’re joining with organizations around the world to bring awareness to the prevalence of preterm labor and birth. Preterm labor is when an expectant mother goes into labor before her 37th week of pregnancy. About one in nine babies born in the U.S. is considered preterm. A premature birth can put the baby at greater risk for medical and developmental problems down the road. While some preterm births cannot be avoided, many “elective,” early deliveries can.
For many years, it was not uncommon to have expectant moms schedule the birth of their baby – often a few weeks before their due date. These deliveries are referred to as elective deliveries and from the 1990s to the mid-2000s, there was a large increase in the number of elective deliveries that occurred. The medical community has since learned the significant growth and development that babies undergo in the last few weeks of pregnancy. While there may be some babies that are fully developed at 37 weeks, the majority are not.
There are many reasons why scheduling an elective delivery is appealing. Much of pregnancy involves planning and preparing for your new arrival. For logistics sake, it can be convenient to know the day your baby will arrive. Additionally, the last few weeks of pregnancy can become increasingly uncomfortable and many women (and their health care providers) sought to alleviate these discomforts.
Now, since we have learned just how important those last few weeks of pregnancy are to your developing baby, we encourage mothers to wait until the onset of labor, whenever possible. During the last few weeks of pregnancy, your baby is growing and developing:
- Important organs, like your baby’s brain, lungs and liver are still developing
- The likelihood of your baby having vision and hearing problems after birth continues to decline
- Your baby is gaining weight, which means he or she will have an easier time staying warm
- Your baby is learning to suck, swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he or she is born
Because of these reasons and others, elective inductions have declined significantly and we do our best to support women going into labor on their own.
All this to say, there are times when medical reasons require labor to be induced or a cesarean delivery to be performed prior to 39 weeks. In the case of these medically-indicated deliveries, your health care provider has determined that the benefits of having the baby early outweigh the potential risks. If mom and baby are both healthy, then the risks of inducing labor early do not outweigh the benefits and for this reason, it is encouraged that you stay pregnant until at least 39 weeks.
About Virginia Women’s Center
Our care team – comprised of OB-GYNs, high-risk pregnancy specialists, nurse practitioners, ultrasound technologists, psychologists and a genetic counselor – are experienced in all aspects of pregnancy and welcome the opportunity to help you LIVE HEALTHY during your pregnancy. We have added all of these services and specialists to our practice not only for your convenience, but also because we believe that you will benefit from a coordinated and comprehensive approach to your pregnancy care. For more information, visit www.VirginiaWomensCenter.com, or find us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.