What is a “late-preterm” birth?

“Late-preterm” delivery describes those that fall between weeks 37 and 38 of gestation.  Babies that are born late-preterm are mostly grown, but not fully developed, and smaller than they would be if they were carried to term.

Babies who are born full-term, on the other hand, have a much lower risk of health concerns immediately after they’re born, due to their extra time to develop for life outside the womb.

Health concerns associated with late-preterm birth

Babies born late-preterm face health concerns that babies carried to term are less likely to have to deal with. These health concerns make it likely that babies born before they’ve been carried to term will have to spend at least a little bit of time recovering from the marathon that is being born in the neonatal unit. These health concerns include:

  • An increased risk of respiratory trouble, including respiratory distress syndrome
  • An increased risk of pneumonia
  • A chance of more difficulty regulating temperature both now and in the future
  • An increased risk of cerebral palsy and other neurological concerns
  • A higher risk of other neonatal complications that require either a longer stay in the neonatal unit or lead to death

The increased focus on the importance of carrying to term whenever possible isn’t meant to scare new parents with greater chances of delivering early, though it might start to feel that way. On the contrary, they focus on the importance of carrying to term when possible is a reminder that, even though medical science has progressed to the point where the vast majority of babies born prematurely are able to flourish as healthy children before too long.

Once a baby passes the 34-week mark, survival rate percentages go up into the 90s, though the exact rate depends on different dates and studies.

The focus on carrying to term when possible is meant to remind parents and doctors that scheduling C-sections for babies who are late-preterm is not what the life-saving medical advances that protect premature babies were developed for. That doesn’t mean expectant moms at risk for delivering prematurely shouldn’t take comfort in the fact that those medical advances exist, though.

Every day counts when it comes to gestation and a baby’s development. If you have any questions about preterm labor, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your healthcare provider.

  • “What is full term?” MarchofDimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Oct 2013. Web.
  • “Ob-Gyns Redefine Meaning of “Term Pregnancy”.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Oct 2013. Web.
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