Stop the presses! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine has changed the way we should refer to “birth.” When communicating with patients or in health messaging, the following gestational age designations more accurately convey the distinction of health benefits and risk:
These new terms offer more specificity to accurately convey the distinction of health benefits and risks for each week of gestation from 37 weeks to 42 weeks. In the past, this entire period was considered a “term,” implying that neonatal outcomes from deliveries at any point in this interval were uniform.
This announcement comes as many hospitals across the country are working on initiatives to reduce pre-term, pre-planned C-sections. It is suggested that planned deliveries before 39 weeks should occur only when continuing the pregnancy poses significant health risks to the mother and/or the fetus. Waiting until 39 weeks gives the infant the best possible chance for a healthy start in life. Research conducted in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that the risk for adverse outcomes is greater for neonates delivered in the newly created early-term period compared with those delivered after 39 weeks.
In a healthy pregnancy, outcomes for both the infant and mother are best if the infant stays in the womb for at least 39 weeks. Clinical evidence shows that a fetus goes through a significant amount of development and growth in the lungs, liver, and brain between 37 weeks’ and 39 weeks’ gestation. An infant born prior to 39 weeks faces a 20 percent greater risk of significant medical consequences than those born after 39 weeks. Mortality rates are also higher among infants delivered in the early-term period compared with those born after 39 weeks, now called full-term births.
If you would like to order materials or are looking for social media content, the National Child & Maternal Health Education Program has great sharable information that can be found here.
There’s also this great video: