Why Moms Should Prolong Pregnancy: A HealthCentral Explainer

by Allison Bush Editor

Attention pregnant women Although you’re probably counting the minutes until labor and delivery – especially during this uncomfortably hot summer – you may want to think twice about rushing out your little dude or dudette. A new study suggests that children born between 39 and 41 weeks score higher on tests later in life.

What’s considered a “full-term” pregnancy?

Historically, a pregnancy is considered full term at 37 weeks, at which point experts say babies are developed enough to breathe on their own. However, doctors are recommending that moms delay delivery until at least 39 weeks, citing recent research finding babies do lots of critical development during their last few weeks in the womb.

[SLIDESHOW: Your Brain on Sex]** The advantages of waiting**

Last year, many hospitals changed their hospital policy to restrict “elective inductions” or C-sections before 39 weeks, unless medically necessary. Both March of Dimes and Banner Healthcare (one of the country’s largest non-profit health care systems) stand by the research and have taken to educating women and hospitals on the benefits of allowing for a gestation period of 39+ weeks.

The study, "_Academic Achievement Varies With Gestational Age Among Children Born at Term," in the August 2012 issue of _Pediatrics, analyzed data from 128,000 babies in New York City born between 37 and 41 weeks in gestation. It found that test scores for children born at 37 and 38 weeks were “significantly lower than those of children born at 39, 40 or 41 weeks.” Further, compared with children born at 41 weeks, those born at 37 weeks had a 14 percent greater risk of having a mild reading impairment and a 33 percent higher risk of having a severe reading impairment by the third grade. The same was true for basic math skills. Pre-term birth has been known to put children at risk for developmental problems , but the _this_study presents new evidence that being born before 39 weeks-- which is technically full-term-- may also have lasting effects on babies.

[SLIDESHOW: What They Didn’t Teach You in Sex Ed: Top 5 Pregnancy Myths Revealed]** The bottom line**

As the old saying goes, good things (like babies!) are worth waiting for. If there’s no medical reason for you to deliver before 39 weeks, don’t. Talk with your doctor and make sure you’re both on the same page regarding your pregnancy and wishes for labor and delivery. Also, don’t get too anxious about any of this, or you may actually be in for a longer labor (!).


Medical News Today. (04 July 2012). “Some ‘Technically At Term’ Infants Have Lower Third Grade Scores Later On.” Retrieved at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247435.php

Time. (02 July 2012). “Study: Children Born Too Early Have Lower Reading and Math Scores.” Retrieved at http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/02/study-children-born-too-early-have-lower-reading-and-math-scores

Time. (25 Aug. 2011). “Patience, Mom: More Hospitals Say No to Scheduled Delivery Before 39 Weeks.” Retrieved at http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/26/patience-please-39-weeks-is-the-new-thinking-about-when-to-deliver-babies/

Allison Bush
Meet Our Writer
Allison Bush

Allison Bush is a former HealthCentral editor who covered a wide range of health topics.