The Myth of the Early Baby

Every pregnant mama I know has done a little happy dance once she hits 37 weeks. For me, it was in large part being outside the danger of preterm labor. I was never at risk for it, but of course it’s nice to not have to worry about it. But I know that for myself, as well as many other mamas out there, it’s the idea that it could be any day now.

Any day now until pregnancy is over and you meet your new baby. Because once you hit 37 weeks, you could safely go into labor. That means you’re going to soon, right?

Wrong.

The vast majority of women (who are allowed to go full term without interference) won’t meet their babies for at least another month. The average first time mom gives birth at 41 weeks and 1 day. Second time (or more) is 40 weeks 5 days. Of course average means that there are plenty of deliveries both early and late of that mark, but it also means you shouldn’t bank on an early delivery unless you have a very medical birth in mind.

Our Bradley Method instructor had a great example of why inducing isn’t wise without a clear medical need. She said that you never know exactly when a baby is ready to be born. Let’s say you’re one of those mamas that has a long gestation (like my friend who was due right after me) and your baby is ready at 42 weeks 5 days. You decide that you’re just done being pregnant at 39 weeks, well within the range of what’s considered okay by most professionals for induction. That means your baby is born a full MONTH before they’re ready! Sure, not “premature” by the medical standard, but that baby can still end up with all the same issues.

Pregnant mamas, I know it’s tough to wait. I know it sucks being pregnant. I know you just wait to hurry up and meet that baby! But just wait. He or she will come when they’re ready. We can’t speed up the process. Just try to be patient (and tell friends/family to leave you alone!) and you’ll meet them before you know it!

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4 thoughts on “The Myth of the Early Baby

  1. Great points! When I was a doula, I would encourage moms to tell people their “due” date was a week past the calculated date. For my own pregnancies, I always told people a range, like early- to mid-August, instead of a date.

    Even with all of this, though, I still felt concerned when my second came at 40+6, not because I was worried about him—I knew he was safe inside—but because I felt like maybe I was doing something wrong and that’s why labor wasn’t starting. Not terribly rational, but that’s how I felt. Luckily, no one gave me any pressure at all to birth him sooner than he and my body were ready to birth.

  2. I enjoyed your article and I feel compelled to comment. While I can understand your point of view, I don’t necessarily agree, (which I’m sure you expected to get from someone LOL).

    Please know that what I’m going to say is with no intention to put anyone into fear but only to inform. I realize pregnancy, delivery and just parenting can be nerve wrecking as it is. I simply want to share the other side of the coin.

    The “normal” pregnancy is about 40 weeks so saying that a baby born before 42 weeks is “a month premature” is inaccurate. Yes, (most times) our bodies know when it’s time for baby, but not all women’s bodies respond accordingly. Although the numbers are few, some women’s bodies never go into labor. Science hasn’t yet figured out why it happens, but it does. Also, there are women who begin labor and never fully dilate. This goes to show that a women’s body doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, as much as we want it to.

    This was one of the causes of fetal and maternal death before we had the medical advancements that we do today.

    There’s also the issue of decreased amniotic fluid (this is called “oligoamnios”) which can be dangerous for baby. Sufficient amniotic fluid is important because it prevents trauma to baby and it keeps the umbilical cord from becoming depressed which would reduce (or even cut off) oxygen supply to baby, among other necessities provided. Of course this is something that can be monitored and would be addressed if the OB sees a potential issue, but this is still a risk after 40 weeks of pregnancy.

    Moreover, one thing that cannot be determined is if/when the fetus has a “bowel movement” in utero. This “BM” is called meconium. Should the fetus pass meconium, then drink or aspirate it (take it into the lungs), this could cause aspiration pneumonia or even fetal death. No one knows when meconium is ready to pass and waiting passed the 40 week mark increases the risk of this occurring. Is it really worth waiting another 2 weeks and put baby and mommy at such risk?

    The best thing to do if you find yourself faced with this decision is to address it with your OB. Ask about the benefits and risks of waiting it out or choosing induction, as each case is very individual.

    God bless all you mommies out there!

    • Thank you for the comment! I welcome dissenting opinion.

      First, I didn’t say that any baby born before 42 weeks is a month early. I’m saying a baby born at 38 weeks that was meant to be born at 42 weeks is a month early. If there is nothing wrong with mother or baby there is no reason to induce a mom at 38 weeks.

      I also understand that there are situations where induction is required. I’m not saying that it’s not important to monitor a mom closely when she is “post-date,” but rather that being “post-date” in and of itself is not a reason for induction. And even the situations that you mentioned are very rare, so we shouldn’t assume every mom still pregnant at 41 weeks is going to have low fluid or anything like that.

      The purpose of this post is more to tell moms not to assume their baby will be born before 40 weeks or induce before then without medical reason. Every new mom I meet gets giddy at the 37 weeks stage thinking it’s going to be over any minute when, in reality, it’s likely to last another month. We need to change our perception of pregnancy and realize that 37 weeks is more of a “baby is no longer in risk of the complications of being born early” instead of “baby is going to be born any minute.”

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