Just as medical technology changes so do the concepts of pregnancy safety. The word "term," as used in pregnancy, was once used to describe pregnancies between the 37th and 41st week of gestation, but new evidence suggests that infants born prior to the 39th week may not be term at all.
What happens in those final weeks?
Many doctors live by the idea that baby simply gains weight after the 37th week of pregnancy, but that may not be the case. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests development continues throughout pregnancy, well beyond that 37th week. The lungs and brain, in particular, are still developing at this stage of pregnancy. Giving birth before the baby's organs are completely developed can result in prolonged or advanced hospital care that would not have otherwise been needed.
When is it safe to give birth early?
The only time women should give birth before the pregnancy due date is when it is deemed medically necessary. That means the life of the mother or child would be put in danger if the pregnancy were allowed to continue. This is often the case with preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications. Fetal complications may also suggest early delivery. Choosing the delivery or birth date of your baby is not considered a medical need.
The lungs are not the only organs affected
Another concern with early deliveries is jaundice. Jaundice is the build-up of bilirubin in the body. The bilirubin gives baby a yellow color after birth. The liver continues developing late in the pregnancy and the more developed the liver is at birth, the less likely baby is to suffer from jaundice.
No matter how tired, swollen or downright crappy you feel in those last weeks of pregnancy, remember that baby is still developing. The longer you stay pregnant, the more developed the fetus and the less chance there is of common complications. Many hospitals are even choosing to initiate programs on an individual level that prevent elective C-sections before the 39th week to prevent common complications of early birth.