What's full term?

Updated: Jan 6

As I sit here currently on call for a client who is over 40 weeks pregnant, this subject comes to mind.

Did you know that in recent years, ACOG revised their definition of what constitutes a full term pregnancy? While in the past, a baby was considered full term at 37 weeks, the newest research shows the importance of every week of pregnancy. Your baby is not simply putting on weight, there is very important lung and brain development happening until the baby is born. It has been found that the best outcomes occur when birth happens closer to 40 weeks.

The current standard for "full term" is 39 weeks

When talking to friends and noticing the general buzz surrounding late pregnancy, due dates and induction, it's pretty clear that there needs to be more of an effort made to share evidence-based information with expectant parents (I'm looking at you medical providers). I've had clients tell me their doctor offered a 38 week induction without any medical reason or wanted to schedule an induction in the third trimester just in case (y tho?) There’s this very outdated idea that we should almost fear the due date. Babies or pregnant persons' bodies can be labeled as "stubborn" or "lazy" if the pregnancy lasts until 40 weeks or longer and I see a lot of posts and bump pics and speaking in sometimes negative terms about babies who aren't ready to be born until after the traditionally accepted timeline.

I get the impatience and the excitement of meeting your baby, I’ve been there myself. Of course it's hard to wait and the end of pregnancy is uncomfortable. But as an educator who strives to help parents be informed, this makes me nervous. Thinking about your due date in this way is potentially harmful for a few reasons: it causes unnecessary stress and anxiety during the final weeks of pregnancy and it may lead to unnecessary inductions, complications and babies being born before they are developmentally ready.

The due date is just an estimation.The average for first time moms is 41 weeks and 1 day

There's nothing wrong with your body being pregnant for 40 weeks or longer. Say it with me: THERES NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING PREGNANT FOR 40 WEEKS OR LONGER. IT'S NORMAL. Human gestation can have a wide range and can be influenced by a lot of different variables. Not every women ovulates 14 days into her menstrual cycle, embryos implant at different times and not all babies grow at the same rate. To name a few.

Let’s accept that babies don’t care about guidelines.

Babies are not born “early" "on time” or “late” (some of these terms have an obvious positive association while the other label is usually negative).

Babies are born when they are ready.

Let's let babies decide when they are done growing and developing. I don't get the rush to push all of these babies to be born if there is no medical reason and they are happy where they are. Your baby is not a library book or a carton of milk with an expiration date.

Let's stop making women afraid that their baby will become "too big" if they don't induce (the evidence does not support this)

Let's share the benefits AND THE RISKS of induction. It is not a simple, satisfaction- guaranteed process. Don't even get me started on the arrive study. If you want to avoid a c section, there are MANY things you can do besides an induction. You know what else reduces your risk of c section? Doulas, movement and position changes, more patience with the laboring process.

Instead of saying overdue, maybe we could say your body needs more time? Or your baby isn't ready.

For all you well-meaning family members out there. Can you pretty please stop calling and asking again and again when the baby is coming or if so and so is still pregnant? If you need to call, I'm sure your loved one would like to hear they are doing a great job and their body is working exactly as it should. Better yet, call and offer a massage and some tacos. Always tacos.

I hope that this updated information can start to become more widely known so pregnant women can feel less stress and anxiety surrounding their due dates. The last weeks of pregnancy are hard enough without a deadline hanging over your head. Yes some babies will still be born before the due date for different reasons. Some babies are ready earlier and sometimes induction is a good choice if a real medical concern arises. But there's also a great chance that if there's less pressure for babies to be born "on time" the rate of unnecessary inductions, complications and cesarean births will decrease as well.

To be clear, I'm not saying inductions are BAD. But we find in the birth world, many parents are not made fully aware of what an induction means. On paper they sound great. I can choose the date my baby is born?! I can not be pregnant anymore?! Sign me up!

In reality, they are often very slow, uncomfortable and come with some additional unwanted interventions like constant monitoring, being attached to more cords and iv's, restriction of food and drink, frequent blood pressure checks, babies becoming stressed by the medication and a general pressure to progress along a predictable timeline. It is also more difficult to move around or rest. Unfortunately inductions can also NOT WORK.

Unless there is a clear medical reason, the evidence shows that it's best to wait for labor to begin on it's own. Don't fear your due date, celebrate your body for the important job it is doing and trust that your baby will come when the time is right.

I have no judgement for parents who have inductions. I personally have had them myself, once at 39 weeks (my belly had stopped growing the last month of pregnancy and there was a suspected partial abruption) and the second was at 40 weeks and 4 days to avoid another $4,000 insurance deductible (not really a choice in my opinion. The for-profit insurance and medical system in the US is broken).

I never want anyone to feel shame about their choice for an induction. However, it frustrates me that parents can feel pushed into these situations without first being given ALL of the information: risks, benefits or options for alternatives. I speak to many clients who aren't even aware they can say no if their doctor suggests induction.

At the end of the day, I don't care how your birth happens. All I care about is that you have information, choices and the support to do what is right for you. Did you have an induction? What was your experience? Would you do anything differently?

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