According to this article by Bonnie Rochman, our thinking about a “full-term” pregnancy isn’t exactly accurate.
Right now, anything prior to 37 weeks is considered “pre-term” and anything beyond that is considered “full-term,” but new studies suggest that there can be a world (or a life) of difference between 37 and 40 weeks: “babies born at 37 weeks had twice the risk of death as 40-weekers, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
And if that isn’t compelling enough, Rochman cites the March of Dimes’ research on the medical cost of early delivery: “Even babies delivered at 37 to 38 weeks can end up costing 10 times as much as a full-term newborn.”
And the pressure to deliver before 40 weeks is huge (pun slightly intended because, yes, when your ankles are as big as your neck or maybe your thighs, but you can’t tell because you haven’t seen your legs beyond the bulging belly in two months, you aren’t really primed for patience). But aside from the physical pressures on an expectant mother, there are social and psychological ones.
I went into labor on my due date—exactly 40 weeks. I had been offered the chance to induce almost three weeks before that and turned it down. (I had slightly elevated blood pressure, but it was a one-time spike and it stayed at healthy levels after some monitoring and the baby was measuring big.)
The day I went into labor I had a doctor’s appointment where I had to be monitored for about an hour to make sure my baby was doing okay. They said this was routine with all “overdue” babies. But she wasn’t overdue. She was right on time.
Friends told me I should just convince the doctor to break my water. I had been in pre-labor for two weeks at that point; I was frustrated, exhausted, and incredibly impatient. But I forced myself not to ask the doctor. I knew that my best chance at a med-free delivery would happen on my body’s schedule.
So it makes sense to me that the best chance for a healthy baby would also happen on that schedule. I know there are exceptions to this—true medical emergencies where a baby has to be delivered early—but I know many, many women who have been induced prior to their due dates, and society is quick to blame them for their impatience. But in my experience, the medical community seemed so on board with an early induction that it’s hard to fight the chance to meet your baby a little earlier.
Hopefully research like this will make early inductions dependent upon medical necessity.