Rethinking "Full Term"

Preterm labor can lead to a lot of problems for you and your baby.

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A newborn is more likely to be healthy if the mom's pregnancy lasts at least 39 weeks, according to a wealth of recent research.

Doctors typically refer to "term" or "full term" as the period from 37 weeks to 41 weeks, but it may be time for a change, according to commentary in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Babies who are born between 37 weeks and 39 weeks have a higher risk of health problems and delays in reaching developmental milestones.

In fact, a recent study of 400,000 Scottish children found a higher rate of learning disabilities in kids born at this stage of gestation, PLOS Medicine reports.

The authors of the commentary suggest calling the 37-to-39-week time period "early term," which would denote the risks, and reserving the designation "full term" for 39 to 40 weeks' gestation.

How do you know when your contractions are normal or not? According to our Ask the Labor Nurse blogger, you don't—only your nurse, doctor or midwife will know. The number of preterm babies born every year is rising, the March of Dimes reports. However, researchers are continually learning more about the causes of prematurity and, as a result, potential ways to prevent it.

—Shari Roan