Do You Want to Deliver Your Baby Early?
Trina Pagano, MD
It’s your last month of pregnancy. You may feel worn out and more than ready for your baby to come. But if you’re tempted to shave a couple of weeks off this time, think again. Cutting your pregnancy short by even one or two weeks is not good for your baby.
“For years, we thought babies born at 37 or 38 weeks were fine,” says Scott Berns, MD, MPH, FAAP, deputy medical director of the March of Dimes. But over the last 10 years, experts have learned that’s not true. “Babies born even a couple of weeks early have a higher chance of medical problems,” Berns says.
As more women try to plan childbirth around work, busy schedules, or their doctor’s vacation, it’s becoming popular to schedule delivery rather than wait for labor to start on its own.
The number of babies delivered through early induced labor almost doubled between 1992 and 2004. And the number of babies born between 36 and 38 weeks is going up, while the number of babies delivered at 39 weeks is going down.
That’s a problem. Even if your baby feels huge in your belly, important organs may still need to grow before he’s ready to enter the world. “Their brains aren’t fully developed. Their lungs aren’t fully developed. They have a higher risk of infections, and even a higher risk of death,” Berns says.
Why Early Delivery May be Dangerous
Babies born earlier than 39 weeks are more likely to have serious medical conditions that land them in the intensive care unit.
- Breathing problems because the baby’s lungs are not fully developed
- Feeding problems because the baby may have trouble sucking or swallowing
- A serious infection that could be life threatening
Plus, babies born even a week or two early are often thinner, so they have a harder time staying warm. They’re also more likely to have vision or hearing problems throughout life.
When Early Delivery Is Your Only Option
Sometimes going full term is just too risky, so your doctor may recommend early delivery. It may make sense if you have diabetes or preeclampsia, if your baby isn’t growing, or if your water breaks. You want to make the best decision for your baby’s health and for your health.
Play It Safe for Your Baby
Berns doesn’t blame pregnant women for the increase in early deliveries. They don’t realize the risk. “Over 90% of women believe it’s safe to deliver before 39 weeks. That’s a huge number,” he says.
To help reverse the trend, the March of Dimes has launched a campaign, Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait. When parents find out how much the last weeks count, he says, they almost always decide to wait and let nature take its full course.
After all, you’d rather get to know your new baby at home, not surrounded by machines in intensive care.