“How many weeks is it safe to give birth?” is a concern that many pregnant women usually have. Now, a recent study has found out that longer pregnancies (pregnancies that continued 41 weeks or longer) have a higher risk of stillbirth and newborn deaths than women who deliver by 37 weeks’ gestation.
How many weeks is it safe to give birth? Study reveals risks of longer pregnancies
First, let’s examine what a full-term pregnancy means.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) uses these definitions for term pregnancies:
- Early term: Your baby is born between 37 weeks, 0 days and 38 weeks, 6 days.
- Full term: Your baby is born between 39 weeks, 0 days and 40 weeks, 6 days.
- Late term: Your baby is born between 41 weeks, 0 days and 41 weeks, 6 days.
- Postterm: Your baby is born after 42 weeks, 0 days.
As part of this new study published on 2 July 2019 in PLOS Medicine, researchers examined data from 13 previously published studies, which covered a total of 15 million pregnancies and 17,830 stillbirths. Here are the chief findings:
Pregnancies that continued 41 weeks or longer had the greatest risk of stillbirths and newborn fatalities within the first 28 days of life.
The study found that from weeks 40 to 41, the risk of stillbirths increased 64% when compared with delivery at 37 weeks’ gestation.
And, from weeks 41 to 42, the risk of neonatal deaths climbed 87%.
According to Shakila Thangaratinam, senior author of the study and a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, “It is thought that the placental function slows down as pregnancy continues and beyond the due date. This is considered to play a role in the stillbirths and poor outcomes after delivery.”
At 37 weeks, the risk of stillbirth was roughly 1 for every 10,000 pregnancies. This risk steadily rose, reaching roughly 32 stillbirths for every 10,000 pregnancies by 42 weeks.
Meanwhile, the study also says that the risks of newborn death remained constant between 38 and 41 weeks, and only increased beyond 41 weeks.
For the info, the World Health Organization recommends inducing labour at 42 weeks because allowing pregnancies to continue longer is associated with an increased risk of death and complications for both mothers and babies.
In the United States, the current practice is to induce labour at 41 weeks.
“Women need to be aware that there is a small but increasing risk after 40 weeks of gestation.”
“Induction is a medical procedure that some mothers won’t want. We have to give mothers the information that empowers them to make a decision. We want to promote joint decision making between mother and doctor,” says senior author, Shakila Thangaratinam.
According to Dr. Aaron Caughey, chair of obstetrics and gynecology and associate dean for women’s health research and policy at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, for women without any pregnancy complications, it is best to wait to consider induction or a surgical delivery until 39 weeks.
While waiting too long to induce is a concern, another growing concern is that the number of early inductions and scheduled (unnecessary and for non-medical reasons) early births are rising.
It is important to understand that lots of important things happen to your baby in the last few weeks of pregnancy. It is a period of rapid brain growth. Being pregnant for at least 39 weeks gives your baby’s body the time it needs to grow and develop.
(Source: Reuters, ACORG)
Also READ: Your body after giving birth: The first hour, day, week and year