As a mother to be, you are doing everything you can to make sure that your baby will be born healthy. But many women grow impatient to see their baby or become anxious that something could go wrong. Some women prefer to schedule their delivery so that it fits into their family’s schedule or they want to ensure their own doctor is present for the birth instead of whoever is “on call.”
But what you may not know is that having labor start on its own is one of the best ways to ensure the health of your baby. A full TERM pregnancy is 40 weeks, although some women may go into labor earlier. Studies show that having your baby “after 39 weeks” greatly reduces the risk of health problems at birth which could affect them later in life. Waiting can be hard, but waiting allows your baby’s brain to grow. The last weeks of pregnancy are critical to the natural development of your baby’s organs—especially the lungs and the brain.
Why 39 weeks?
- Important growth occurs during the last few weeks of pregnancy. For example, the weight of a baby’s brain grows by one-third between 35-40 weeks. Also important lung and liver development occurs during this time.
- Babies born at 39 weeks are less likely to have hearing or vision problems at birth or later in life than babies born earlier.
- Waiting until at least 39 weeks allows for babies to gain enough weight in the womb, which helps them to stay warm after birth.
Why wait for labor?
It is recommended that you do not schedule an induction of labor or cesarean delivery (giving medications or using other methods to bring on labor) before 39 weeks, unless there is a medical reason to do so. For greater success of a vaginal delivery, allow your body to naturally go into labor on its own. There are risks to childbirth, but risk may be slightly increased when labor is induced prior to 39 weeks if your body is not ready. Some potential risks for you during an induction could include:
- Inducing labor may not work. There are several reasons why the medication a doctor or midwife gives you may not start labor. If this happens, a cesarean section may have to be performed. A failed induction increases the risk of infection and bleeding.
- A cesarean section is major surgery. The recovery period for a cesarean birth is usually longer than that of a vaginal birth. Most mothers who deliver by cesarean spend 4 days in the hospital and 4-6 weeks of recovery. There is an increased risk of complications with a cesarean, such as infection or bleeding.
- Having one cesarean affects future pregnancies. Mothers who have had one cesarean are more likely to have a cesarean with a future pregnancy. With each cesarean there is a greater risk for complications and a longer recovery period.
If you are planning a cesarean, the birth should be scheduled after 39 weeks. If you go into labor before your surgery date, come straight to the hospital. This is a sign that your body and your baby are ready. If you and your doctor agree that you are a candidate for VBAC, you should come straight to the hospital when labor begins. You and your baby will be monitored closely.
Ideally, your pregnancy should last at least 39 weeks. There are reasons your doctor may want you to deliver before 39 weeks including, but not limited to:
- Active labor
- High blood pressure
- Heavy bleeding
- Problems with your placenta
When possible, you should come to TERM with your baby!