How long is a full term pregnancy? 40 weeks

How long do you want to be pregnant?  When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I thought a full-term pregnancy was 36 weeks because pregnancies last for 9 months right? I was 100% WRONG. How long do I want to be pregnant? Ideally, 40 weeks, and our babies need as much time in the womb as possible to grow and develop. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (aka ACOG and the gold standard in pregnancy care) have redefined “term pregnancy.”

The following represent the four new definitions of ‘term’ deliveries:

  • Early Term: Between 37 weeks 0 days and 38 weeks 6 days
  • Full Term: Between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days
  • Late Term: Between 41 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 6 days
  • Postterm: Between 42 weeks 0 days and beyond

ACOG states, “…newborn outcomes are not uniform even after 37 weeks… Each week of gestation up to 39 weeks is important for a fetus to fully develop before delivery to have a healthy start.”

Also, I would like to note gestational age (how many weeks you are pregnant) is a best guess and the range is a month, so I may think I am 38 weeks pregnant, but the range is really 36-40 weeks gestation! Unless you know for sure the exact date you got pregnant, it’s an estimate.  Moms experiencing fertility issues may know the exact date of conception because they are pregnant via IUI or IVF.

READ: Helping a Friend Who is Dealing with Infertility

If you go into labor before 37 weeks, a knowledgable physician will try to stop your contractions and labor, and give you steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop more quickly to be able to breathe and survive outside of the womb.  Researchers have learned every week of gestation matters for the health of newborns. The last few weeks of pregnancy allow a baby’s brain and lungs to fully mature. Babies born between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days gestation have the best health outcomes, compared to babies born before or after this period. This distinct time period is now referred to as “Full Term.”

Pretty large, but not done!
Pretty large, but not done!

Knowing this, I internally cringe when I hear a mom say she is “so done” being pregnant. I am particularly sensitive to this because I was at high risk for delivering my twins early. Having twins early and expecting them to be tiny is so common, people expected me to deliver early and even my own medical team said, “Oh, you’re not going to make it 36 weeks.” Well, if you know me, you know I like a challenge and reverse psychology works well to get me driven. Not only did I hit 36 weeks, but I delivered my babies at 38 weeks + 1 day (37 weeks is considered full term for twins). We did not need any time in the NICU or special care nursery and we all went home together 2 days later. It was a dream come true and I know my experience is not common. I am acutely aware of this because the vast majority of twins spend some time getting extra care for a multitude of reasons linked to being born preterm, prematurely or small.

There so many reasons to go the full 40 weeks.  Having a “preemie” sounds darling and cute, but it’s scary. Amniotic fluid (what babies grow and develop in) is a magical solution specially created to help babies develop their hearts, lungs, brains, eyes, basically everything! I used to think the NICU is a place for cute little babies, but it is actually an environment trying to mimic the womb because the baby cannot coordinate eating, breathing and maintaining their own body warmth and gain weight… all this while trying to continue to develop as they would in the womb. The NICU simulates and aids babies in accomplishing these things with machines, in fact, lots of machines to monitor their breathing, heart rate, body temperature, general bodily functions. Babies born early are trying to survive and thrive, but everything they need to accomplish takes place beautifully in our amazing wombs.

Babies do not develop their suck reflex to eat until 36 weeks gestation. This meant if my babies were born early (the way everyone thought they would be born), they would have needed a tube placed in their nose going down into their stomachs to get food. They would just be too small and under developed to know how to eat and breathe on their own (it breaks my heart to think about it). They would have needed help breathing, and if they needed any sort of medication, the first place to start an IV would be the top of their heads because their veins would be too small in their arms and legs. These are not images I wanted to conjure up when thinking of my brand new babies, but this is reality.

Ladies – this is my plea. You are blessed to be pregnant. Some moms have waited a long time to get pregnant with their little bundle of joy. Why rush it? This is a wonderful time when the baby is 100% taken care of. Being in your miraculous womb means they don’t cry in the middle of the night and they are held 24/7. They don’t need diaper changes, and you are basically cuddling them nonstop. It’s a week of discomfort for you, which in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t make a big difference for you, but it makes a HUGE difference for your little one’s growth and development.  Please enjoy this time because it is fleeting, and you and your baby have earned it!

Happy and healthy after a full term pregnancy
Happy and healthy after a full term pregnancy
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