We have traditionally said that " term" is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, and that a baby born anywhere in this 5-week period was at a very low risk of complications. Babies born before 37 weeks would be considered pre-term, while babies born after 42 weeks would be considered post-term.
We are now moving to different definitions of term, and this re-definition has come about over reports that within the traditional term period, there are some important differences in outcomes.
We now consider the early term period, which is from 37-38 weeks; term which is 39-41 weeks, and late term which is 41-42 weeks. Babies born prior to 37 weeks would still be considered pre-term, and babies born after 42 weeks would still be considered post-term.
It has been found that while many babies born early may look as healthy as full-term babies, sadly some of them are not. Babies born at 37 and 38 weeks seem to have more adverse health outcomes than those born at 39 to 41 weeks. The most significant health issues are low blood glucose levels, breathing difficulties and a need for admission to the special care nursery.
The research also showed that babies who were born by caesarean at 37-38 weeks were at an even higher risk for admission to the special care nursery when compared with caesareans that were performed on full term babies at 39-41 weeks, and this is thought to be because babies who are born by caesarean do not have the opportunity to naturally expel fluid from their lungs as occurs during a vaginal birth.