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Preterm, Full Term & Post-term Babies: What Do They Mean?

Alison Wood |20, February 2013


Late. Full-term. Preterm, late preterm and post-term are typical medical jargon concerning when the baby was born during the pregnancy. What do all these terms mean? Here's the information you need to know about these terms:

Full-term Birth

This term simply means that your baby was born somewhere between 38-40 weeks of the gestational period. This is the range of the most healthy and uncomplicated birth experiences. If you deliver before 38 weeks or after 40 weeks, extra risks are involved.

Late Preterm Birth

This label refers to babies that are born between 34 and 37 weeks gestation. Most physicians prefer for all pregnancies to go to term, but for unforeseen complications, babies may be born prematurely. The most recent studies of American births suggest that late preterm birth rates are rising. The researchers hypothesize the reason is older maternal age, more overweight mothers and more infertility treatments. Late preterm births account for 8% of all births in America. Babies born at this age have a much greater chance of an uncomplicated birth than babies born before 34 weeks.

Preterm Birth

Newborns are considered preterm if they are born before the pregnancy reaches 34 weeks. If you go into labor before 34 weeks, and there are no medical issues involved, your doctor may prescribe you medication to stop labor as well as give corticosteroids to the baby to mature his lungs in case delivery is unstoppable.

Post-term Birth

Babies fall in this category if they are born after 40 weeks gestation.

Extremely Preterm

Babies that are born before 25 weeks gestation are considered extremely preterm.

What are the dangers of a post-term birth?

As the placenta ages beyond the 42 week of pregnancy, it becomes weaker in its ability to transfer oxygen and other vital nutrients to the baby. The reduction can become severe enough to lead to a stillborn baby. The risk of needing a cesarean also increases as the pregnancy progresses past 40 weeks gestation. The appearance of a post-term baby differs somewhat from a term baby. The baby will have wrinkled, cracking and peeling skin. He may also have long nails, lots of hair and be a smidge on the skinny side of newborns.

Post term babies are also at risk for meconium staining. Meconium staining is when a baby has a bowel movement before birth and it passes into the amniotic fluid. The baby can then ingest the tainted fluid and develop a lung infection or pneumonia.

The majority of doctors will opt to induce a mother who is past her due date to avoid the above complications. However, sometimes the baby is in perfect condition, and the due date was incorrectly calculated.

What are the dangers of a preterm birth?

Preterm births, especially extreme preterm births, can have many complications. Listed below are some possible complications of the preterm baby.

  • Immature Lungs
  • Pneumonia
  • Apnea and Bradycardia (Apnea is the absence of breathing and Bradycardia is a slow heart rate.)
  • Infection
  • Jaundice
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Inability to maintain body heat
  • Digestive Problems
  • Anemia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vision problems

If you are concerned about delivering your baby preterm or post-term, take these special steps to lower your risks.

  • Stop smoking
  • Limit alcohol, wine and caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take prenatal vitamins during the entire pregnancy
  • Go to all your prenatal check-ups

Even with added risks, thousands of babies born pre and post term grow up to enjoy happy and healthy lives! Medical researchers are aggressively seeking to make those not-so-timely births less and less complicated. If you have any concerns about your risk of a pre or post term pregnancy, discuss them with your practitioner at your next prenatal visit!

Alison Wood is a stay-at-home mom of six and freelance writer and blogger. She enjoys raising her six children and desires to share her experiences to help other mothers.

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