All About the 39 Week Rule

Dr. Joe Toney, Medical Director Sky Ridge NICU

From Dr. Joe Toney, OB/GYN, Neonatologist & Medical Director of Sky Ridge's NICU

What does the "39 Week Rule" really mean?

It means that pregnant women should not be delivered ELECTIVELY before 39 weeks.

Why is it important that we wait until 39 weeks to deliver the baby?

During the last few weeks of pregnancy the baby is maturing rapidly and a lot of brain development is taking place. Babies who deliver prior to 39 weeks are at greater risk for respiratory distress after birth, more jaundice and often have more feeding difficulties in the first few days to weeks after birth. Some studies have also shown an increased risk of poor school performance in some areas for infants born just a few weeks early. Even babies born at 38 weeks are more likely than a 39-week infant to require care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

What happens if my baby wants to make an appearance before 39 weeks?

There are many MEDICAL reasons why a mother needs to be delivered before 39 weeks, such as pre-eclampsia or placenta previa. Also, if a mother goes into labor on her own before 39 weeks (but after 35 - 36 weeks) we do not try to stop that natural process. Despite the increased risk for some problems after birth, most babies born after 35 weeks do not need to go the NICU, but those between 35 and 37 weeks do need extra attention with feeding, temperature and watching for jaundice even if they stay with parents in their room.

How does the Sky Ridge NICU care for babies who are premature?

With tender loving care. The care of each baby is individualized for that specific infant. Some just need help with feedings, others with staying warm and needing an incubator, while others may need oxygen or even help with a breathing machine for a short while. It is very dependent on just how premature the infant is when born.

Is there anything I can do to ensure that I carry my baby until 39 weeks?

Unfortunately not. There may be some therapies for mothers who have a previous history of an early pre-term birth or are carrying twins. Fortunately, the vast majority (approximately 80%) of pre-term infants are born after 30 weeks of gestation.