Through research we’re discovering that every week your baby continues to grow inside you makes a difference to their short and long term health outcomes.
So the timing of your baby’s birth is important.
For all pregnant women, there’s an optimal time for their babies to be born. If the pregnancy is healthy and progressing without any issues, that’s as close to 40 weeks as possible. If there are health complications, the timing of birth should be guided by your healthcare professional, with the pregnancy continuing as long as it is safe for mother and baby. If labour starts naturally at 38 or 39 weeks, don’t fret - in a typical pregnancy, it just means your baby is ready to be born.
Your baby still has growing to do, is still developing and is becoming stronger right up to 40 weeks of pregnancy. Recent research is starting to demonstrate what this means to babies born before their due date – even by 1 or 2 weeks. Every week that a baby is born before 40 weeks can impact their health - whether that’s increasing their need for medical treatment at birth or related to brain development and future learning difficulties.
When you became pregnant, your healthcare professional gave you an estimated due date for your baby. This is the date that your baby is expected to be full-term (40 weeks along) and ready to make an entrance into the world. Your due date is based on several factors:
Talk to your doctor
Aiming for 40 weeks to give birth offers you and your baby health benefits. So have a conversation with your healthcare professional about the timing of your baby’s delivery. You may even find it useful to direct them to this website.
Keep in mind that when we mention the number of weeks you are pregnant, the number refers to the whole of that week. For example, 35 weeks covers the day you reach 35 weeks all the way up to 35 weeks and 6 days. The same applies to 36, 37, 38 and 39 weeks which includes the 6 days up to 40 weeks .
As research in neuroscience and imaging advances, we are able to see babies’ brains more clearly - even before they are born. This is improving our understanding of the brain and how it develops during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
The third trimester of your pregnancy is from week 29 to week 40 – in other words, months seven, eight and nine.
Find out more in our ‘Research’ section. This information about the possible effect of an early birth on children’s brain development potential can be found in the study by researchers Walsh JM et al.
There are a number of reasons that babies may need neonatal intensive care when they are born, including breathing difficulties and infection. Every week that a baby is born closer to 40 weeks decreases their risk of having to spend time in intensive care.
Babies may be sent to intensive care for a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks, which means that they are separated from their mother so that they can receive specialised medical care. The first days and weeks after birth are an important time for the mother and baby to bond and begin feeding patterns, so reducing the risk of separation is of great importance.
These statistics are based on the collection of birth data in New South Wales for the period 2006 to 2015.
We’re continuing to learn more about how being born early may affect babies later in life. Research is now linking early birth and a baby’s neurodevelopment with performance at school age.
A large New South Wales population-based study investigated the association of when, and how babies are born with early child development. Children born from 32 weeks onwards were assessed in 5 areas: physical health and well-being, language and cognition, social competence, emotional maturity, and general knowledge and communication. You can find this study by Bentley JP et al. in the ‘Research’ section.
Stillbirth is when a baby shows no signs of life after a woman's 20th week of pregnancy and it is a tragedy for parents and families. Stillbirth may be associated with complications during childbirth, maternal infections during pregnancy, maternal health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, growth restriction in the baby during pregnancy or birth defects. Sometimes the cause of a stillbirth is unknown.
Every pregnancy is unique. The decision about the timing of your baby's birth should be based on balancing the short and long-term health benefits to you and your baby, with any risks specific to your pregnancy.
Register to download your free brochure of baby’s development towards the end of pregnancy.
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