PHOTO: Texas Children's Pavilion for Women
Over the years it's become quite common for mothers to request an early delivery date. Some moms want to induce labor or schedule their cesarean so they can have their baby early for reasons of convenience or comfort; others want to choose their child’s birth date for sentimental reasons, and some moms want to avoid delivering on certain dates or holidays.
Whatever the motive, the practice of early induction of labor, or early cesarean delivery for non-medical reasons can cause major problems for the baby and even the mother. During recent years, research studies have proven what some have long suspected — even though a baby born just two or three weeks early looks normal, a greater proportion of these babies have developmental problems when compared to babies born after 39 weeks.
It’s understandable that moms are confused by this because many women had babies who were three, four or more weeks early and are seemingly normal. What’s important to remember is the data regarding child development applies to populations, not just one individual family. So while your 36-week newborn may meet all of his milestones growing up, a greater number of kids born at that same gestation are not as lucky in comparison to those born after 39 weeks.
During the last few weeks of your pregnancy there is a lot of development and growth that takes place. Important organs such as the brain, lungs and liver are not fully developed until the baby reaches at least 39 weeks. In fact, at 35 weeks a baby’s brain weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 39 to 40 weeks.
In addition, babies born too early may have more health-related issues at birth and possibly later in life. These newborns are often too small and require additional support after delivery. For these compelling reasons, obstetricians such as myself, along with pediatricians and organizations like The March of Dimes, urge you not to request early delivery.
Your doctor or midwife will determine if early delivery is medically necessary because of problems with you or your baby’s health. If this is the case, then your doctor will make every effort to keep you and your baby healthy.
For babies who must be delivered early, excellent neonatologists, and advances in neonatology care, have increased survival and decreased morbidity in even the tiniest and earliest newborns. One other reason to not induce early includes possible risks to the mom. When a woman is pregnant for the first time, induction of labor markedly increases her risk of cesarean delivery. A cesarean delivery is major surgery, which means you will require a longer hospital stay and recuperation.
Thankfully, the effort to encourage moms and obstetricians to wait until at least 39 weeks before elective delivery is starting to be talked about more frequently. Help spread the word to your friends and family. Healthy babies are worth waiting for!