Definition Change Will Benefit Newborn Health and Data Collection
Washington, DC -- The nation’s ob-gyns have redefined ‘term pregnancy’ to improve newborn outcomes and expand efforts to prevent nonmedically indicated deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation. In a joint Committee Opinion, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) are discouraging use of the general label ‘term pregnancy’ and replacing it with a series of more specific labels: ‘early term,’ ‘full term,’ ‘late term,’ and ‘postterm.’
The following represent the four new definitions of ‘term’ deliveries:
On average, a pregnancy with a single fetus lasts 40 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period. This calculation determines a pregnant woman’s estimated date of delivery (EDD). Previously, babies were considered ‘term’ if they were born anytime between three weeks before and two weeks after the EDD (37–42 weeks of gestation). “Until recently, doctors believed that babies delivered in this five-week window had essentially the same good health outcomes,” said Dr. Ecker.
Research over the past several years, however, shows that every week of gestation matters for the health of newborns. The last few weeks of pregnancy within these 40 weeks allow a baby’s brain and lungs to fully mature. Babies born between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days gestation have the best health outcomes, compared with babies born before or after this period. This distinct time period is now referred to as “Full Term.”
Planned deliveries before 39 weeks 0 days should occur only when there are significant health risks to a woman and/or the fetus in continuing the pregnancy, according to Dr. Ecker. Sometimes delivery before 39 weeks 0 days is unavoidable, such as when a woman’s water breaks or contractions come early.
The College and SMFM encourage physicians, researchers, and public health officials to adopt these new precisely-defined terms in order to improve data collection and reporting, clinical research, and provide the highest quality pregnancy care.
Committee Opinion #579 “Definition of Term Pregnancy” is published in the November issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
See Committee Opinion #561 “Nonmedically Indicated Early-Term Deliveries.”
Go to acog.org/About_ACOG/ACOG_Departments/Deliveries_Before_39_Weeks
For more information on The College’s partnership with the US Department of Health and Human Services “Strong Start” public awareness campaign to reduce unnecessary elective deliveries before 39 weeks’ gestation, visit http://1.usa.gov/1hztQRS
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 57,000 members, The College strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization. www.acog.org