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Go the Distance

By Joanne Goldbort, PhD, RN

Go the Distance

I tell many pregnant moms that completing a term pregnancy (40 weeks) is like being a marathon runner. Giving birth requires endurance, perseverance, and dogged determination to complete the grueling yet rewarding weeks of pregnancy.

Marathon runners prepare months in advance. They don’t quit at the last mile because it’s too hard. They may even be the last one across the line but they’re driven to finish something that took months of preparation and sacrifice.

Going a full 40 weeks

Why shouldn’t this be the same for pregnant women? Unless medically indicated, a pregnancy is meant to go the distance, 40 completed gestational weeks.

Most pregnant women who have given birth would agree that the last few weeks of pregnancy can be overwhelming. You’re tired, you’re not sleeping, you’re frequently emptying your bladder, you have acid reflux, and you just can’t get comfortable!

Add to that everyone’s expectations—“Haven’t you had that baby yet?” “You’re so big, what are they waiting for?”—and no wonder you just want to get it over with!

The risks of being born early

Your friends who have had early births reassure “things were just fine with my early birth; ask your healthcare provider to get things going.” But research shows that giving birth early is not without unnecessary risks that affect your newborn immediately after birth, and in the days, weeks, and years to follow.

Even if your baby is born as a late preterm infant (before a completed 37 weeks gestation), she’s immediately at risk for respiratory difficulties, feeding issues, jaundice, temperature instability and low blood sugar, which all means lots of painful needle sticks, blood tests, monitoring and maybe IV therapy. These interventions will separate you and your baby for several hours or days; your baby may even have to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. Breastfeeding will be interrupted or difficult at best.

But it doesn’t stop there, if your baby is born early, she will still be at risk of developing these problems at home, even if everything seemed fine in the hospital.

Pregnancy is a marathon, and marathons are hardest at the end. Make sure you finish well with a healthy, full-term baby as your medal for running the good race.

Early Birth issues

Babies who are born before 37 weeks gestation are:

  • 6 times more likely than full-term infants to die in the first week of life
  • 3 times more likely to die in the first year of life
  • 2 times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Joanne Goldbort, PhD, RN, is director of Maternal & Child Services at Union Hospital Health Group in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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