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Why wait? The importance of waiting until 39 weeks to deliver

As chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Shady Grove Hospital, Dr. Gurdian  was instrumental in improving adherence to the recommendation that babies not be delivered until completion of 39 weeks of pregnancy. This position is in compliance with national standards.

Why do we need to wait until 39 weeks? Early term babies (between 37 and the end of the 38th week) are usually healthy, but they are at higher risk for medical problems than babies born at full term. These babies have increased risk for the following problems:

  • The baby’s brain, lungs and liver may not be mature. A baby’s brain at 35 weeks is 2/3 of the size of a baby’s brain at 39 weeks.
  • Admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit are increased in pre-39 week babies .
  • Breathing problems occur more often. These babies may need oxygen or even a ventilator.
  • Temperature control problems. They may not have enough body fat to keep warm outside the womb.
  • Feeding problems. Their sucking and swallowing is not as strong and they may have trouble staying awake long enough to eat.
  • Blood sugar problems. They could need an IV to help regulate their sugars.
  • Jaundice.  They may not be able to clear bilirubin as well as a term infant. It can build up in their blood, tissue and fluids.
  • Induction for non-medical reasons may not work. That may lead to a cesarean section which is major surgery with a longer, harder recovery and a greater risk of complications to mother and baby.

Of course inductions and cesarean sections are done before term, but it is important that they are done when the benefits outweigh the risks.