Two prominent medical organizations are considering changing the definition of established "terms" in pregnancy after new research revealed that each individual week of gestation has a significant impact on newborn health, reported CNN.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine said the change is being considered "to improve newborn outcomes and expand efforts to prevent nonmedically indicated deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation" in a joint statement to the press.
The latest research shows that the brains and lungs of the fetus are fully developed during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Those babies born between 39 and 40 weeks generally have the best health outcomes according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Old and new guidelines for pregnancy 'terms'
The average single-birth pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks from the woman's last menstrual cycle. In the past, pregnancies between 37 and 42 weeks of gestation were considered to be "full term" for a regular pregnancy.
Under the new definition, the period between 37 and 38 weeks would be considered "early term," while that between 39 and 40 weeks would be considered "full term." The period between 41 and 42 weeks would be considered "late term," whereas any time 42 weeks and beyond would be considered "postterm."
"This terminology change makes it clear to both patients and doctors that newborn outcomes are not uniform even after 37 weeks," said Jeffrey Ecker, M.D., chair of the group's Committee on Obstetric Practice. "Each week of gestation up to 39 weeks is important for a fetus to fully develop before delivery and have a healthy start."
Using the new term guidelines in pregnancy planning
These new guidelines are meant to serve as a frame of reference and help women plan deliveries with their doctors when the need arises. Generally, planned deliveries should occur at or after 39 weeks to avoid health risks to the baby.
In cases of natural birth, however, these circumstances may be unavoidable. If a woman's water breaks or if she begins to feel labor contractions before 39 weeks, immediate delivery is the safest course of action for both the mother and the child.
What do you think of the new term guidelines? Will they be useful in helping to plan the later parts of pregnancy and delivery? Let us know what you think in the comments section.