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Think 37 Weeks Is 'Full-Term'? Not Anymore

ACOG redefines pregnancy weeks
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

For years now, that 37-week mark has been hailed as the victory lap of pregnancy; crossing the finish line and giving birth by that point, or even a week or two later, means your baby is "full-term," healthy and ready to make its exit.

But it looks like the American Academy of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) is changing its tune a bit on just when exactly that baby is officially done cooking in there. And the organization is emphasizing that while, yes, that final stretch of pregnancy is insanely uncomfortable for mom, it's incredibly important for baby. In fact, the longer kids spend in that womb at the end, the better.

"Weeks matter," said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker of Massachusetts General Hospital, to the Associated Press. Ecker chaired the ACOG committee that came up with the new labels. He also added that since all babies and pregnancies differ, it's important not to say that they should all follow the same timeline guidelines. Some just need to stay in there longer.

So just what is a full-term baby? Here's the new breakdown of definitions:

  • Early Term: between 37 weeks and 38 weeks, 6 days
  • Full Term: between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days
  • Late Term: the 41st week
  • Post Term: after 42 weeks

The new timelines probably shouldn't come as that much of a surprise. After all, experts have been concerned for years over the rising rate of elective C-sections and inductions (the latter of which is now being linked to some troubling side effects). Studies have also shown that babies born at 37 weeks have a higher risk of complications like difficulty breathing—a problem that dramatically dips for babies born just two weeks later.

The March of Dimes is certainly happy about the clarification, saying that it "eliminates confusion about how long an uncomplicated, healthy pregnancy should last."

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