The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SFMF) have issued a joint statement that redefines what term pregnancy means. What does it mean for you and your baby?

What term pregnancy means now

I've been a childbirth educator and doula for nearly 15 years, so this committee opinion immediately caught my interest.

Until the statement was released, "full-term" pregnancy meant any time after the end of the 37th week to 42 weeks.

Now, according to ACOG and SMFM, "term" is defined as:

  • 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

I wonder if this new definition of term pregnancy cut down on the number of inductions for non-medical reasons.

What the new term pregnancy means for you and your baby

Simply because ACOG and SMFM agree now that full term starts at 39 weeks' gestation, this doesn't necessarily mean your doctor will use this as the golden rule. I think it's likely there will still be doctors who will allow — and possibly encourage — inductions or C-sections by request. You may be the one requesting it — many moms do, and let's face it, if we could pick our baby's due date, it sure would make planning a lot easier.

The fact is — and research has supported this for a while now, even before these new term guidelines were released — inducing labor just for convenience is not ideal for your baby.

Babies born before 39 weeks do not have the same brain and lung development as those born full term.

Babies born before 39 weeks do not have the same brain and lung development as those born full term.

Of course, you or your baby may have health issues or complications that could necessitate an early term delivery — that's not what I'm talking about.

Heading toward what's now defined as post-term pregnancy may not be either — the placenta starts to age, and amniotic fluid levels may be abnormal.

It's important to talk to your doctor about your particular situation and options so you can make an informed decision whether your pregnancy is early, full, late or postterm.

Bottom line^ You and your baby deserve the ultimate amount of time to have a healthy pregnancy and full term baby — 39 weeks is worth the wait.

Read more about the importance of full-term pregnancy

The third trimester: A guide to your baby's development
Don't shorten your baby's stay
Inducing labor: What you need to know