• Posted on July 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm

WHAT IS FULL TERM FOR A BABY? It is an uncomfortable reality that most women are unaware of what is a health full term pregnancy.  When asked this question, many think 37 or 38 weeks is good. The BEST ANSWER IS WHEN THE BABY GIVE’S ITS HORMONAL SIGNALS TO THE MOTHER’S BODY TO BEGIN LABOR. Far too many babies are being born earlier than is healthy and precious mother-baby time is being interrupted with time spent in a NICU.

The ‘average’ human gestation period is about 40 weeks, but as we all know, we are all slightly different, so for every baby that is ready prior to that time, there is an equal number not ready until beyond the average. In an attempt to quantify pregnancy(which the medical community does far too much now-a-days), an estimate of 40 weeks from the date of conception is set as a predicted date. However, once that date is determined, it takes on a new life and too much emphasis is centered on it. There are many variables to consider, the first of which is “Do you really know exactly when your partner’s sperm united with your egg?” OK, in most cases that is an estimate too. Even if you know when you had sexual intercourse, the uniting can vary a couple of days. So why are we stuck on selecting an exact date and gearing baby’s growth and labor expectations so precisely around it? Every pregnant mother should convert any calculation into an expected date RANGE and change her story to “I am due mid-March,” rather than getting caught up in a one day deadline.

By selecting an exact date in our culture and medical community, we artificially sabotage a woman’s ability to celebrate the wonders of the late stages of pregnancy and obtain a birthing experience optimal for her and baby:

  • We cause worry when a pregnancy extends even moments beyond this date with threats of baby too big to birth vaginally, a placenta that cannot sustain a few more days and more. Women should be reassured that their baby will be the ‘right’ size and her body will be able to birth that baby with her active support. The must trust that their bodies can sustain that baby until it is ready. Women can be educated to monitor their baby’s activity level and continued health (even use a home Doppler) as her pregnancy extends beyond the predicted 40 or 41 weeks.
  • We feed into the medical community’s ability to initiate labor artificially which second guesses whether the baby is truly ready for birth. This initiates a cascade of interventions which often end with the baby admitted to a NICU as premature. We need to stop using science over nature.
  • We allow a buy-in by physicians and mothers that it is safe to ‘schedule’ a birth (either by induction or cesarean) because we have predicted the maturity of the baby. Often the planned cesarean is scheduled at a predicted 39 weeks as if the woman going into labor is somehow a great risk. I often wonder what the fear is of allowing this natural onset, then doing a cesarean. Women, especially first-time moms, have plenty of time to get to a hospital for a planned cesarean.  Let’s let these babies tell us when they are ready!!!
  • We allow fallible scientific measurements to trump nature and a woman’s intition in predicting gestational age.  Although ultrasound is continually used to predict baby’s age in late pregnancy, it has been well documented that only interpretations of ultrasounds early in pregnancy act as somewhat accurate predictors.
  • A planned induction second guesses the woman’s readiness for labor. If the Bishop score is used as a predictor, there is definitely room for subjective evaluation by caregivers. Unless a woman or baby’s health is in danger, artificially inducing also contributes to our high levels of failed labor progress resulting in cesareans.

Many women are unaware (and many physicians seem to discount) that critical fetal brain growth and development occurs during the last weeks of pregnancy. Evidence of late preterm brain immaturity is seen in problems with breathing, apnea, heart rate, sleeping and feeding. The fears of the medical community are causing avoidable medical issues in exchange for trying to prevent others.

I applaud the March of Dimes for managing a campaign to counter today’s medical practices that results in so many preterm babies. It is just sad that they must do so at all! Their resources could be spent on unavoidable infant issues. 

It is hard to plan for anything when it comes to children….Why do we allow women to think birthing their child is something controllable and schedulable? Patience, calm, confidence  in oneself, one’s body and coping abilities makes for better birthing and long term parenting. Let’s celebrate late pregnancy and let birth begin on its own!

Lamaze Health Birth Practice #1: Let labor begin on its own

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