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Answers to Common Full Term Pregnancy Questions

Atrium Medical Center answers frequently asked questions about going full term in pregnancy.

How many weeks is considered “full term” for a pregnancy?

Click play below or read the video transcript.

Once you have completed 37 weeks of pregnancy, you are considered to be full term, meaning your baby’s organs are ready to function on their own, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Even though there are medical reasons physicians sometimes choose to deliver babies early – usually to prevent health concerns for mothers or babies – it is typically best to try to continue your pregnancy through the full 40 weeks.

As long as there are no unexpected health concerns, the more time your baby has to grow inside you, the better.

Talk with your physician for more information about your baby’s growth.

Learn more about your developing baby Off Site Icon.

Is it possible I could go into labor early on my own? Should I be concerned?

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It is always a possibility for you to go into labor early, but the closer you get to your due date, the more frequently you will visit your physician to check your baby’s growth and progress.

Going into labor before your 37th week of pregnancy is considered preterm labor and can cause your baby to be born too soon.

Getting proper prenatal care and making sure to go to all your scheduled visits with your obstetrician is important. As your physician tracks your pregnancy, he or she will do their best to help ensure your pregnancy continues for a safe length of time.

Signs of preterm labor can include:

  • Four or more contractions per hour
  • Strong contractions
  • Constant menstrual-like cramping
  • Low-back pain
  • Mucous or bloody vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding or spotting in the second or third trimester

If you have any of these signs, contact your physician right away.

Talk with your doctor about early labor to find out any other signs you should be watching for.

Learn more about preterm labor.

Can I choose to have a Cesarean to deliver early?

A cesarean delivery – also called a c-section – is a surgery where the baby is taken out through the mother’s abdomen.

C-sections are typically performed when there is a medical reason that makes the surgery a better option for the mother and baby than a traditional vaginal birth.

The National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians both have stated that a doctor’s decision to do a c-section at a patient’s request should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Both organizations also say that unless there is a medical need, doctors should never schedule a c-section earlier than 39 weeks of pregnancy to make sure a baby’s lungs are mature.

More and more women are asking their doctors for c-sections for a variety of reasons, including avoiding the pain of childbirth and having a scheduled delivery date.

The decision whether you can choose to deliver early is between you and your physician. Talk with your doctor for more information about what childbirth options are best for you.

Learn more:

What reasons might my physician suggest delivering before 40 weeks?

Though it is generally thought that staying pregnant for the full 40 weeks of gestation is best for your baby, there are a variety of reasons your doctor might recommend delivering your baby early.

Some reasons for early delivery include:

  • The baby has a slowed heart rate
  • Problems with the placenta
  • The mother has a dangerously high blood pressure
  • The mother is carrying multiple babies
  • A lack of amniotic fluid

Every pregnancy, mother and baby are different and reasons for an early delivery can vary from person to person and birth to birth.

If you are concerned about the possibility of an early delivery, talk with your physician about your individual pregnancy.

Learn more:

Why is it considered risky to electively deliver before my 40 week due date? 

Doctors agree that the time it takes for a baby to be fully grown and ready for birth is 40 weeks.

Though the end of 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered full term, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, every baby and every pregnancy is different.

The length of most pregnancies is determined by the date of your last menstrual period and sometimes by ultrasound. But because not every woman has the same length of menstrual cycle, this date can only be used to estimate your due date and therefore could be a week or so off.

To be safe, it is best to try to deliver as close to your due date as possible or even after your due date. The National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians both state that doctors should not schedule a delivery before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a medical need.

If you have more questions about the risks of electively delivering early, talk with your physician.

What you need to know about elective delivery Off Site Icon.

What risks could my baby face if I deliver before 40 weeks?

Click play below or read the video transcript.

It is in your baby’s best interest to keep growing inside you through the full 40 weeks. If you baby is born early there is a possibility he or she will face some health problems.

Possible health concerns of preterm babies include:

  • Jaundice
  • Problems breathing and underdeveloped lungs
  • Temperature stabilization
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Low birth weight
  • Underdeveloped organs or organ systems

The earlier a baby is born, the more likely he or she will have health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most preterm deliveries happen without a known cause and are unexpected. Sometimes doctors will decide to deliver a baby early if it is the best choice for the mother’s and/or baby’s health.

Talk with your physician for more information about the risks of premature birth.

Learn more:

Thank you to Michelle Gnagey, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Atrium Medical Center, for answering these common questions about full term pregnancy questions.

Additional Resources

This website provides general medical information that should be used for informative and educational purposes only. Information found here should not be used as a substitute for the personal, professional medical advice of your physician. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting a physician.