What does full term mean?
I typed this question into a google search and the results I found were quite humorous. The first site in the results was a Yahoo! Answers page. I clicked on the site to see what I could find. One woman wrote:
What exactly does FULL TERM mean?????????????????????????? I’m going to be 37 weeks pregnant on Wednesday and I’ve heard that 37/38 weeks pregnant your considered full term. What does that mean?
In Yahoo! Answers, anyone can post a question and anyone can respond to that question. Among the ten or so responses, no two answers said the same thing. My favorite response stated:
it means get yo a** in the hospital and stay there
Clearly there is misunderstanding surrounding the pregnancy “terms.” In the past, a pregnancy between 37 and 42 weeks was considered full term. However, through extensive research, The National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) recently found poorer health outcomes of babies born at 37 and 38 weeks of pregnancy compared to those born after 39 weeks of pregnancy.
Researchers found that babies born before 39 weeks are at greater risk of being admitted into the neonatal ICU, and at a 50% greater risk for death within the first year of life. In addition, mothers who deliver before 39 weeks are also at greater risk of poor health outcomes than mothers who deliver at or after 39 weeks.
Because of these findings, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal (SMFM) announced they are recommending modification of the gestational age designations in reference to “term” pregnancy. Full term will now refer to 39 weeks through 40 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy.
The new terms are defined as:
- Early term: 37 weeks through 38 weeks and 6 days
- Full term: 39 weeks through 40 weeks and 6 days
- Late term: 41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days
- Post-term: 42 weeks and beyond
The new term definitions will contribute to better care for mothers and infants by allowing for more accurate research on infant health outcomes. According to ACOG and SMFM, redefining the terms will improve standards upon which to base clinical research.