Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Are you tired of waiting for your due date?

I remember as a pregnant woman, I prayed to go into labor early.  It’s just one of the things we do as pregnant women.  It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, during that last month of pregnancy.  You can’t sleep; have to go to the bathroom all the time; your feet and hands are swollen and you feel the largest you have ever felt in your life.

But as a nurse for the past 40 years I know those last few weeks are critical, albeit uncomfortable.

Why is that? With the fewest words – It’s best for the health of your baby, not to mention your health.  Babies born too early may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born full term.  Labor is an important process for a baby’s health.  For example, labor signals the baby’s lung cells to shift from being fluid producing cells to fluid absorbing cells.

Just last week the Wall Street Journal ran a long article about why health officials are urging women to wait. The article cited statistics from hospital chain HCA that found that 18 percent of babies delivered at 37 to 38 weeks, without a medical reason for doing so, ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit. Another 8 percent of babies born between 38-39 weeks ended up in the NICU, whereas only 4.6 percent of babies born after 39 weeks were in the NICU.

The March of Dimes has tons of resources for pregnant women about how to improve the health of themselves and their babies, so I turned to the organization for information about why it is so important to wait until 39 weeks if you don’t spontaneously go into labor.

The last few weeks are critical for the baby’s brain, liver and lungs to develop. For example, at 35 weeks the baby’s brain is only two-thirds the size of a full-term baby. (See the illustration below.)
Illustration from March of Dimes website: © Bonnie Hofkin illustration, 2007

Babies also need to grow in the womb until 39 weeks to have a better chance at not having:
•    Vision and hearing problems
•    Trouble staying warm because of low birth weight
•    Trouble sucking, swallowing and staying awake to feed properly

It may seem like scheduling an induction early isn’t a problem, but there are numerous challenges that can crop up such as:
•    Due dates are really estimates and inducing early could mean that your baby is born too early.
•    Inducing labor doesn’t always work and when that happens it leads to a cesarean section. Babies born by C-Section can have trouble breathing and face other difficulties. Not to mention a C-Section is major surgery for Mom and has risks of its own.

Babies born between 37 and 39 weeks typically are born healthy, but remain at a higher risk for complications than a full-term baby, such as:
•    Being at greater risk to need to go to the neonatal intensive care unit
•    Being at greater risk for breathing troubles that could require a ventilator and
•    Having difficulty maintaining body temperature.

For many women who go into labor early they don’t have the choice of waiting to help their baby develop further. But for those that do, waiting until after 39 weeks development, or ideally until you go into labor spontaneously on your own, gives your baby a crucial chance at that last spurt of development.

Aside from my years as a nurse and a mom, I also approach this issue as a grandmother of three with a fourth on the way. And I know when it comes to my own grandbabies while I don’t want their moms to have to be uncomfortable through those last weeks of pregnancy, in the end I know it’s the right thing.   

For more details on pregnancy and birth, please visit the March of Dimes site or Texas Health Moms.

Mary Lou Wilson, RN, BSN
Director, Women's Services
Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford

No comments:

Post a Comment