A study published this week in Pediatrics, involving over 130,000 kids, showed that being born at 37 or 38 weeks– which is technically considered “full term”– resulted in “significantly” lower reading and math test scores in third grade kids, compared to those who were born at 39, 40 or 41 weeks.
When other factors were taken into account, including birth weight and mom’s socioeconomic background and education, the connection between slightly shorter gestation and third-grade test performance was still there.
More research needs to be done to rule out possible other reasons for this correlation but in the meantime the authors of the study are emphasizing the need to reduce early elective labor inductions.
Dr. Kimberly Noble, lead study author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and NY-Presbyterian Hospital said, “until we have more data we would encourage parents and physicians to exercise caution when considering elective induction of birth prior to 39 weeks gestation…. the data suggest that children born at 37 or 38 weeks may have problems with reduced school achievement later on.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.5 % of all births in 1990 were through elective induction; in 2007 that number jumped to 23% of all births. I hope that this number will start to go down (if it hasn’t already) due to the overwhelming research in favor of, in the words of the March of Dimes, “letting the baby decide” when to born.
Dr. Michael Katz, medical director of the March of Dimes, noted that though more research is needed to understand the impact of early induction, “the trend toward prematurity has been rising year by year … it would seem illogical … to trump the process that has its own time schedule. If you do something anti-evolutionary, you are begging for trouble.”
The March of Dimes (and ACOG and the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine and many others) have made a push for women and doctors to avoid elective inductions and elective c-sections before 39 weeks. Though your baby may well be ready to be born at 37 or 38 weeks (some are!), your baby may also not be.
Dr. Bryan Williams, associate professor of family and preventative medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who has done similar research (with similar results) told ABC News, “The thing to keep in mind is that a child born 36 weeks, 6 days has brain size two-thirds that of a term infant. They’re still at a deficit with regard to brain development.”
Sometimes early induction or c-section is necessary for medical reasons. This new research, previous research and the campaigns to “let the baby decide” when to be born are specifically aimed at the trend of non-medically necessary inductions and c-sections before 39 weeks. Full-term is anywhere between 37-42 weeks. Letting the baby decide when to be born within that five week window seems optimal in the absence of any other medical concerns.
Here’s a cute video that helps reinforce this message: