Are Scheduled Births Harmful?


Pregnancy can be a huge pain in the ass — literally and figuratively. The process of growing a tiny person requires an expectant mother to knowingly enter into a parasitic relationship between the woman, the host, and a tiny little jerk who steals your nutrients and kicks you in the spleen for several months and then screams and screams and screams and pinches your boobs and doesn’t let you sleep and won’t get a job. Babies are jerks, and why we keep inviting them into our homes is beyond me. They don’t even send Thank You notes.

At the very least, in recent years women have been able to eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding a baby’s arrival by scheduling a date upon which labor is induced or the baby is delivered via C-section. This allows working women to schedule their maternity leave in advance, allows families to prepare for the little asshole’s earth debut, and lets doctors and patients coordinate their schedules so that the baby is delivered by the woman’s doctor, not whatever doctor happens to be on call. Sounds like a rare win in a scenario full of the inconvenient and uncomfortable (but ultimately rewarding) road to motherhood, right?

Not so fast, say doctors. Scheduled deliveries, while convenient to families, can actually harm the baby.

A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, but elective deliveries are often planned for two or three weeks earlier. And even though 37 weeks is also still considered full term, studies show that babies born even a few weeks too early are at greater risk for health problems than those who are born later. That has some doctors campaigning to curb the trend of scheduled labor and delivery.

Additionally, first time mothers often carry pregnancies for longer than 40 weeks, because babies love taking their sweet old time. Come on, babies. This isn’t New Mexico, the land of mañana. Forty weeks means forty weeks, not forty two weeks. But do they listen?

Why is it harmful for the baby to be born at 37 weeks as opposed to, say, 39 weeks? NPR reports,

The reasons for this are two-fold. First, without an ultrasound measurement in the first trimester, a woman’s due date could be as much as two weeks off, making the fetus 35 weeks instead of 37. And second, (Dr. Ed) Donovan says the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system all mature at different rates – and some may need a little more time than others.
“Just because the lungs are mature doesn’t mean that the other organ systems are mature,” says Donovan. “A baby born three weeks early with mature lungs may not be ready to eat because the brain’s not fully developed.”
According to Donovan, doctors realized they simply weren’t very good at determining which babies were ready and which weren’t. And Iams says the large numbers of sick babies made many doctors begin to think differently about early deliveries.

One challenge doctors face in assuring that babies aren’t born before they’re fully cooked lies in convincing expectant mothers to endure just a couple more weeks of waiting while getting booted in the stomach by a tiny adorable foot, a hard sell. Being pregnant is not easy, giving birth is not easy, and being a mother is especially not easy, but until we come up with a better way to grow baby humans (I vote “sun tea jars”), the discomfort of the end of pregnancy looks like it’s a fact of life.

Doctors to Pregnant Women: Wait at least 39 Weeks [NPR]

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