The 39-Week Initiative says healthy babies… - Wyoming Medical Center

The 39-Week Initiative says healthy babies are worth the wait

By Jennifer Gallagher, R.N. Apr 7, 2016

A new dad holds his baby in the Ruth R. Ellbogen Family, Mother and Baby Center at Wyoming Medical Center.

A normal healthy pregnancy lasts up to 40 weeks. That means you are actually pregnant for 10 lunar months! I am sure this is disappointing to some expectant mothers who are in the last few weeks of pregnancy.

You are tired, excited, scared, filled with anticipation and emotion. You can’t sleep well, have to use the bathroom all the time, told to drink as much water as possible, get rest, go for a walk, don’t do that, do this. Most importantly, you are patiently waiting to meet your beautiful baby face-to-face and another week has just been added to the time frame.

But, believe me, it’s worth the wait.

According to the March of Dimes, babies aren’t fully developed until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. Important things such as your baby’s brain, liver and lungs are still developing during these last few weeks. Vision and hearing problems are also less likely. The 39-week initiative gives more time for your baby to gain weight before delivery, allowing him or her to stay warm. Babies born closer to their due dates can also coordinate their suck and swallow and stay awake longer while feeding. Babies that are born too early at risk of:

  • Breathing problems including Respiratory Distress Syndrome
  • Temperature instability
  • Difficulties with feeding
  • Jaundice, or high bilirubin levels
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Learning and behavior problems

Being patient with your due date is important because it can be off by as many as two weeks in some instances. Perhaps we shouldn’t have “due dates” but instead “due months.” This way, maybe we could avoid some of the frustration as expecting mothers watch their “due date” come and pass with no glimpse of labor in sight. Not until the end of the “due month” would you begin to feel restless because you were still pregnant!

Adding just a few more weeks of pregnancy can cut a newborn’s risk of death in half – even if the pregnancy has reached “term” -- adding more evidence to the argument that continuing a pregnancy to at least 39 weeks is crucial to a baby’s health. Video credit:

The last four weeks of pregnancy are essential to a baby’s development. The baby’s brain almost doubles in size in the last few weeks.

As more research is done on the positive effects of waiting to deliver, data indicates a decline in deliveries prior to 39 weeks from 17 percent in 2010 to a mere 4.6 percent in 2013. This decrease in early-term deliveries, between 37 and 39 weeks, directly correlates with a decrease in other complications for the newborn such as pneumonia and admission to the NICU, as well as extended nursery stays for newborns who may struggle with temperature control and poor feeding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that infants born between 37 and 38 weeks have a higher mortality rate than those born at 39 to 40 weeks gestation.

Of course, at any time, your physician may feel that it is in your and your baby’s best interest to deliver prior to 39 weeks. If this happens, the pros and cons will be considered. Communication between you and your physician is essential. There are some circumstances that warrant you deliver your baby prior to 39 weeks. These include but are not limited to:

  • Prelabor rupture of membranes
  • Preeclampsia and associated disorders
  • Conditions of diabetes
  • Abnormally low or high amniotic fluid levels
  • Poor fetal growth

Remember, risks and benefits must be considered on an individual basis.

You are the best incubator for your little growing bundle of joy. Cherish this time you have with your baby, one-on-one. Get to know him or her. Talk to your baby, sing, dance, pray. Soon enough, you will be holding this beautiful child in your eager arms and you will relish in the time you spent getting to know your baby.

Jennifer Gallagher-Cockrum

Jennifer Gallagher-Cockrum is a registered nurse and clinical education coordinator for obstetrics. She has worked at Wyoming Medical Center for 24 years, starting in 1992 when she washed dishes in the cafeteria. She has worked as an OB nurse for 13 years. She has a bachelor’s of nursing degree from the University of Wyoming and is certified in Electronic Fetal Monitoring and Maternal-Newborn Nursing. She also teaches our Childbirth Education Classes. Email her at