For generations obstetricians and gynecologists have delivered babies under a common rule – A baby born any time between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy was “full term”. But now this seems to be outdated wisdom.

According to the latest recommendations issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the window has been cut down by 2 weeks.

The existing terminology and the change over
Hitherto, women who were 37 to 41 weeks pregnant were considered “full term” and women pregnant for 42+ weeks were “post-term”.

But mounting number of studies has shown that babies born at 37 to 38 weeks have worse health outcomes than those born later. Also, such babies are more likely to need Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) stay, mechanical ventilation and IV fluids than late born.

According to the new classification, babies will be born under four groups – “Early Term” (37-38 weeks); “Full Term” (39-40 weeks); “Late Term” (41 weeks) and “Post-term” (42+weeks).

The new classification, experts feel, will discourage unnecessary early deliveries.

The old terminology “was based on the general observation that babies born after 37 weeks tended to do quite well,” Jeffrey Ecker, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, noted. “That’s still true, but doctors know now that babies born at 39 and 40 weeks do better and that risks rise again after 41 weeks.”

In recent times, doctors’ groups and the March of Dimes have stressed that planned and elective deliveries i.e. inductions and C-sections scheduled without medical grounds, should not happen before the 39 weeks of pregnancy.

The change is this welcomed. The March of Dimes said it “eliminates confusion about how long an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy should last.”

The new definitions were developed by the representatives from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other medical groups at a workshop in 2012. Details from the workshop are published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology this year.

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