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Gabrielle asked...

What are the risks of having my baby at 37 weeks?

Tags: birth , pregnancy

I am 35 weeks pregnant with my first child (a little girl) and 39 years of age. I have had a trouble free pregnancy and enjoyed every moment until now. Because I am over 35 I have just been told of the risks of having a stillborn (touch wood this doesn't happen) and that the highest risk period of this happening is between 37 - 41 weeks. I have also been told that my little girl is "ready" at 37 weeks. Therefore why am I not being given the option of having her at 37 weeks but yet asked to carry her for longer and take the risk? What are the risks of having her a 37 weeks? Do they outweigh the risks of leaving her to come naturally? I am now anxious and getting worried and upset about this - I have been told all about the risks but not given any options or positive info about letting nature take its course. I feel I should be enjoying my last few weeks but I'm not. Many thanks in advance.

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The answer

Unfortunately, while you may feel every bit as healthy and lively as a woman 10 years younger at the same stage of pregnancy, you’re closer to 40 than 35. The risk of stillbirth at 39-40 weeks for a 40 year old mother is twice that of a 35 year old, at 2 in 1,000 rather than 1 in 1,000. Over 40 weeks the risk is even higher. However, the risk of stillbirth is much lower up to 39 weeks, and between 37 and 39 weeks is little higher than that of a younger mum.

The potential benefits of inducing your baby early have to be weighed up against the risks. Your baby does an astonishing amount of developing in a very short space of time, all aimed at allowing her to survive in the outside world. One of the most important factors is her ability to inflate her lungs and breathe unaided. It used to be thought that once you passed the 37 week mark, your baby’s chances of ‘respiratory distress’ because her lungs weren’t well enough developed were similar to that of a baby born at full term. Now there is growing evidence that waiting until about 39 weeks reduces the risk of respiratory distress. It may also give her brain extra time to develop, improving her intellectual ability in later life.
 
Answered by Dr Sarah Jarvis.

 

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