The wonders of modern science afford us conveniences that we humans never before had. But sometimes, things can get carried away. Take, for example “elective deliveries” — the term used when mothers-to-be pick the date when their babies will be born, as the actual due date draws near.
Studies indicate that the number of elective deliveries in the United States rose significantly between 1994 and the mid 2000’s. Many moms feel that they’re ready to birth their babies once they’ve gone past the 36th week of pregnancy. This may be partly due to the common error of thinking that four weeks equals a month, so that nine months, the proper time of gestation, should be at about 36 weeks. But that calculation overlooks the fact that a month is not 28 days long, but either 30 or 31 (unless it’s February) — which means that the proper gestation time is actually about 40 weeks.
Research has shown that babies stand a better chance of being healthy if they spend at least 39 weeks inside the womb. One study funded by the National Institutes of Health reviewed more than 13,000 elective-caesarian births that took place at the 37th week or later. Babies who were born at 37 weeks were twice as likely as those born at 39 weeks to suffer serious complications, including difficulty breathing and heart problems.
Babies born before 39 weeks’ gestation are also at greater risk for bloodstream infections and difficulties with feeding. One recent study by Duke Medicine and the University of Michigan found that mothers whose labors were induced or whose contractions were augmented (that is, strengthened, made longer or more frequent) had a slightly greater chance of giving birth to children with autism, though the researchers were quick to point out that the autism may have been caused by the condition that led to the need for labor induction or augmentation, rather than induction or augmentation having led to autism.
If there are medical reasons to induce labor earlier than the due date, a doctor may opt to use hormones or other procedures to do so. Inducing early labor can be used to prevent fetal complications, including stillbirth, in pregnant mothers who have diabetes or high blood pressure. There are also conditions that the mother can develop (such as preeclampsia) which make continuing the pregnancy dangerous for mom. Labor induction is also useful when a woman has gone past her due date, as post-term pregnancy — pregnancy lasting longer than 41 or 42 weeks — is associated with stillbirth and neonatal death.
For cases where inducing labor may be medically called for, doctors evaluate each woman individually, measuring the benefits of labor induction against the risks of continuing the pregnancy. However, if medical concerns do not warrant labor induction, your baby should stay right where she is, until she’s ready to come out. Those final few weeks in the womb mark a period of rapid growth for her. Her brain will weigh one-third more at 39 to 40 weeks than it does at 35 weeks. Her lungs and liver continue to develop until the 39th week.
So, if there is no medical condition that’s a concern, induced labor with pre-term delivery are not a good idea and can in fact create life-long problems for the child. Neonatal outcomes are better when baby’s organs are fully developed by the time she is born at around 40 weeks.
By Lisa Pecos