There’s a great deal of confusion as to what a “full term” pregnancy actually means. New definitions, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology (2013) and endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, have narrowed the definition of full term to be 39 weeks to 40 weeks and 6 days (essentially spanning two full weeks).
Data strongly demonstrates that early elective deliveries—scheduled cesarean sections or medical inductions performed prior to 39 weeks of gestation without medical necessity—carry risks to both babies and mothers. Early elective deliveries can result in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions, longer stays and higher costs to both patients and payers.
For more than 30 years, ACOG has advised its membership of physicians not to perform early elective deliveries, and highly influential organizations such as the March of Dimes and national health plans have campaigned to stop these deliveries. Leapfrog’s public data, first presented in 2010, helped sparked efforts from a variety of organizations, policymakers, and hospitals to end early elective deliveries.
Learn more about Leapfrog's role in reducing early elective deliveries nationwide
The Last Week of Pregnancy Counts
Unless it is medically necessary for your health or the health of your baby, guidelines developed by doctors and researchers say it’s best to wait until the 39th completed week of pregnancy to deliver your baby and let labor begin on its own. Important fetal development takes place to your baby’s brain and lungs during those last few weeks of pregnancy.
If you would like to read more about why the last few weeks of pregnancy are so important to you and your baby, and to get a list of questions you may want to ask your health care provider at your next prenatal care checkup, visit Childbirth Connection or the March of Dimes.
Resources for Providers
This measure is publicly reported as Early Elective Deliveries on Leapfrog's Hospital Ratings Results page.