Your Baby Isn’t Done Yet

One thing that repeatedly sets me back in my work with pregnant women and helping them understand a due date isn’t really a due date, is everywhere they hear that anything after 37 weeks is considered “term”.  And even that varies by doctor and midwife!!

Term is considered everything after 37 COMPLETED WEEKS of pregnancy.  So it is actually 38 weeks pregnant until 42 COMPLETED WEEKS of pregnancy.  And yet I always hear women so excited when they are 37 weeks because they are now term and the baby can come any time.

When we found out Glade was breech, we had a lot of things done.  Ultrasounds 3 times a week followed by non-stress tests, a consult with an OB I had never met who took over my care, and a lot of people telling me that a version would be fine at 37 weeks, even if I was put into labor or needed a cesarean because the baby is term and is completely ready for birth.

She was born at 37 weeks 1 day, and was definitely not ready for it.

But the idea of term has stuck with me, especially after hearing some of the stories women have about length of pregnancy.

At 37 weeks, I know a lot of women that have started induction techniques, and have also scheduled inductions in the hospital because obviously, “I’m term so the baby is ready to be born.”

I was researching this, and I could find ZERO research as to why 37/38 weeks is considered term.  The only thing I found is that by this time, babies that are born normally thrive and don’t need much assistance after birth like babies born earlier.  It is also said that the baby’s lungs reaches full maturity at 37/38 weeks and everything else is just them practicing breathing so they don’t really need to stay inside to just practice.

The only information I can find is looped in an infinite cycle of information that doesn’t answer any questions.  It has a link for ‘full term baby’ and it links back to information for 37 weeks of pregnancy.  And it just goes back and forth on every site I found.

So, why does EVERYONE say that 37+ weeks is term?

I went on some embryology sites and founds some power points with development and what point in pregnancy everything is fully developed and ready to be born.

Every site said that development stops at birth, but never went into detail about how far along in pregnancy it normally is.  However, the one thing I did find was that a baby’s lungs are normally mature by about 37/38 weeks, and just practice and get ready until labor starts spontaneously because the lungs are fully ready to be used outside the womb.

I was talking with my sister in law about a story I had heard and was trying to rationalize why anyone would volunteer to be induced at 39 weeks, when there is a big chance her due date is off by even just a week.

Then I got to thinking.  As pregnant women, we are always told that pregnancy is 40 weeks, and yet the baby is ready to be born at 37.  And when a doctor or midwife tells you the baby could be born any time, especially if they do weekly vaginal exams to check your progress, you get really impatient for it all to happen.

And when they mention things, even if they are just saying it, most pregnant women take it as medical advice, because well, they aren’t doctors.  And when you are uncomfortable and wondering when the baby will be born, it is so easy to just trust the baby is ready to join your family outside your womb, even if that means being induced early with all the risks that entails, it is kind of an exciting prospect.

When I was told I might meet my baby the day of the version, I was pretty excited.  My mom had cesareans, so I figure they couldn’t be that bad if I needed one.  And since the OB told me that there was less than a 5% chance that she would be early and need help, I was excited that she was joining us sooner than we thought she would.

And I learned the hard way that the baby truly is ready when the BABY is ready to be born.

As care providers, we need to help women understand that there are serious risks to having your baby early unless there is a TRUE medical reason for it.  Scheduling for convenience is not a medical need.  Neither is having a big baby, or going a week over your due date, or a baby making breathing reflexes in the womb.

When you deal with pregnant women, whether you are an OB, a midwife, a doula, or just a friend, realize what you say sticks with them.  When you say the baby is ready anytime after 37 weeks, imagine what that means coming from your mouth.  Especially if you are the care provider and it can be taken as medical advice and medical knowledge.

Stop telling women that term is 37 weeks.  Stop sending weekly updates to pregnant women saying that this week their baby is term.

There is a reason labor starts when it does.  It isn’t just to make you wait, it is truly because your baby is finally ready to meet you guys and ready to be born.


One Response

  1. I could not agree more with this. My firstborn was born at 37 + 2 due to my galloping pre-eclampsia (really no choice, in that case, and I don’t feel any regrets – I wasn’t pressured into anything but my BP and protein were doing very nasty things). However, my husband & I both still feel she was in no way ready to be born. She didn’t, thankfully, have any breathing trouble but she could not latch to the breast and was extraordinarily sleepy, and it took her 3 weeks (until her due date or just past) to start being even a little alert and suckling (she has expressed breast milk before that, but went on to bf for 16 months so it was worth it!)

    With my secondborn, I saw on OB once at the start of the preg who got out his diary to find a date to schedule my c-section as he was unwilling to try a VBAC. Never went back to him again, and saw midwives through the local hospital for the rest of the pg. I went into labour at 40 + 2 and although I did have to have a repeat c-section in the end due to the baby’s distress, I gave it a good go and was well supported in my attempted VBAC by caring midwives. My second daughter was born alert, raring to go on the breast and so much more “ready” than my first. The difference between 37 + 2 and 40 + 2 was astonishing. (It also helped a *lot* that the surgeon who delivered her was lovely and suggested that I keep her in theatre & recovery with me, with my husband there to help, so we were never separated and she was lying under my chin most of the time).

    When it came time to have my third daughter, I knew the public hospital I wanted to deliver in would not accept me as a VBAC patient after two c-sections (especially with one failed VBAC attempt behind me) and I was right about that. I was philosophical about a third c-section but adamant that I would not agree to be scheduled for 38 or 39 weeks. I agreed to be scheduled only for a date *after* my due date, with the understanding that I would have an earlier secyion if labour commenced earlier (which it did at 39 + 5, and she was delivered surgically that day, although hindsight being 20/20, I now sort of wish I had pushed the envelope and tried for a VBAC with her.)

    Like my second, she was born alert and breast-ready and I totally credit that with the fact that both the later two were born at their time – following naturally commenced labour.

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