Q:

How many weeks is a full-term pregnancy in women?

A:

Quick Answer

A full-term pregnancy in a woman is 39 weeks. A baby is said to be premature if it is born before 37 weeks of gestation.

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Full Answer

What Does Full Term Mean?
Pregnancy typically lasts for 40 weeks and is calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period. In women, a full-term pregnancy means that a baby has developed properly and is ready to be born without any potential health problems. Research has shown there is very little difference, if any, in terms of health between babies born at 39 or 40 weeks of gestation. Therefore, it is not advised to plan for an early labor unless medical intervention is required in the best interests of the mother and her baby. There is, however, a significant difference in the health of babies born before 37 weeks and those born after.

What Are the Consequences of an Early Labor?
Going into early labor is not something that can be avoided; generally speaking, if a woman has reached 37 weeks' gestation and her water has broken or her contractions have started, the likelihood is the labor will be allowed to go ahead. If labor starts at any point before 37 weeks, how great is the risk to the baby's health depends on how far along the pregnancy is. In some cases, early labor can be stopped in its tracks with medication, stitching the cervix closed or complete bed rest. Babies born between 23 and 37 weeks' gestation will have problems related to some or all of the following: breathing, feeding, hearing, jaundice, cerebral palsy, behavioral problems and developmental delays. There are factors that can put a pregnant woman at risk of not being able to carry a baby to full term. These include diabetes, placenta previa, high blood pressure, smoking, stress and weight issues.

What Are the Consequences of a Late Delivery?
It is recommended that a baby is better off being born no later than 41 weeks' gestation. While the risk to the babies health is not high, there is some risk involved, especially if the placenta ceases to do its job properly. Nutrients from mother to baby pass through the placenta and if it stops working, the baby will not receive any nourishment. There may be a decrease in amniotic fluid, which puts pressure on the umbilical cord and has a negative impact on the baby's heartbeat. The longer the baby stays inside the womb the larger he or she will grow, and this can make for a difficult labor. A normal delivery might prove to be difficult, or an assisted vaginal delivery may be suggested. There is also a chance that an infection could develop in the womb. If a pregnancy has reached full term then a caregiver may schedule an induced birth at 41 weeks or no later than 42 weeks. This invasive procedure works to stimulate the uterus so that contractions should begin after a few hours. It involves applying a pessary or gel to the cervix to help it soften, or in some cases breaking the waters manually.

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