Baby Talk: What difference does a couple of weeks make?

July 23, 2013 

Q: I am tired of being pregnant. I have asked my doctor to induce my labor but he says he wants to wait until after the 38th week of my pregnancy. What difference could a couple of weeks make?

A: It takes 38 to 40 weeks for a human baby to develop to the point that life outside the womb is a transition and not traumatic.

The last few weeks of a pregnancy are very important to a baby's development. It is during this time that the baby produces a substance called surfactant.

Surfactant is important for the baby's lungs to work efficiently.

Babies practice swallowing and sucking as they develop inside their mother's uterus.

As their brain matures, the baby becomes capable of sucking, swallowing and breathing, all at the same time. That ability allows for easy transfer of milk.

It is also in the last few weeks of a pregnancy that a baby increases its body weight at around a pound a week.

This increase in body mass and fat stores enhances the baby's ability to control his or her temperature and regulate its glucose levels.

Currently, a pre-term baby is a baby that is born before the 37th week of pregnancy.

The Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses has addressed the needs of a baby that is born between the 34th and 37th week of a pregnancy.

This initiative is called the Near Term Initiative. The goals are: "To raise awareness of the NTI's (near term infant) unique needs, emphasize the need for research, encourage development and resources that assist nurses and other health care professionals in risk-based assessment of near term babies."

These babies may appear to be doing OK for the first few days of life, but then they develop health problems after being discharged from the hospital.

It is estimated that 8.5 percent of all U.S. births in 2002 were between the 34th and 37th week of pregnancy.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development held a meeting to review clinical and other issues related to what is being called near term birth.

Their findings were that a baby born between the 34th and 37th weeks is likely to have increased jaundice, feeding challenges, respiratory distress, temperature instability, infections, apnea (a temporary stoppage of breathing) and bradycardia (slow heart rate).

Your doctor wants you to have a healthy baby. The last few weeks of a pregnancy are uncomfortable but they are also necessary for your baby's development.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Health. Contact her at katie.powers@mmhhs.com.

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