Waiting out those last few weeks of pregnancy can be very tough, but it’s worth giving your baby’s brain the most time possible to mature.
Research shows that a baby’s brain gains one-third of its weight during the final weeks of pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes. Delivering early may raise the risk of health problems, including incomplete development of the brain.
As a result, pregnancy advocates urge mothers to resist scheduling the delivery early as a convenience to the family or the doctor.
At present, one in eight babies is born before the full term period of 39 to 40 weeks, which is considered optimal for the baby’s health, said Maggie Votteler, program specialist at the Healthy Start Coalition of Broward County.
“They might think, ‘Oh, my mom is going to be in town on this one week and we can try to have the baby then.’ Or someone is going on vacation and they want to schedule the birth to be convenient,” Votteler said.
At 35 or 36 weeks, a baby’s brain, lungs, liver and other organs are still developing. Babies born before 36 weeks are more likely to have problems with breathing, vision, hearing, suckling and swallowing, the March of Dimes says.
Any problems may be amplified when delivering early, because the baby’s estimated age in the womb may have been off by a week
“We’re not saying every baby that goes to 40 weeks will be perfect,” Votteler said, “but by waiting you are giving them the best shot.”
Birth advocates also note that the drugs used to induce labor can cause overly strong contractions, or may not succeed, causing other problems. Cesarean section deliveries can cause surgical complications.
Some doctors assure parents there’s no problem delivering a few weeks early. Votteler urges parents to ask questions before saying yes.
“If the doctor says we need to induce you at 36 weeks, and there’s no medical reason, it’s a time for conversation between the parents and the doctor about what is best for the baby,” Votteler said.
The Healthy Start program, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health, provided prenatal counseling to about 38,000 South Florida women last year.
Healthy Start services include childbirth education, breastfeeding support, home visits, psychological supportive counseling, referrals to community services and smoking cessation counseling.
Women qualify for Healthy Start services based on need, not income. Under state law, every pregnant woman is supposed to be screened by her doctor to see if she needs services, said Solia Matthews, director of Healthy Start at the DOH-Broward. Families can also request services if they have a need. It’s open to anyone at no cost.
Bob LaMendola is in community affairs at the Florida Department of Health in Broward County. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information visit 39weeksfl.com/why-39-weeks or browardhsc.org or 954-563-7583.