A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks long. And as long
as mother and baby are healthy, the last weeks are just as
important as those at the beginning and middle.
“The final phase of prenatal development is a period of
rapid growth—in particular, brain maturation and growth,”
says Sheila McDonald, a researcher at the Child Development
Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. As well, the lungs
and gastrointestinal system mature at this time.
Many late preterm babies (born at 34 to 36 weeks) are
healthy at birth. Some babies, however, have trouble
breathing and their development and ability to learn can
be poorer than babies born at 39 weeks and beyond. As
well, some late preterm babies find it difficult to suck,
swallow or stay awake long enough to feed properly, making
A study by McDonald and five other researchers, A
Comparison between Late Preterm and Term Infants on
Breastfeeding and Maternal Health, also confirmed what
several previous studies had suggested: a late preterm birth
can increase a mother’s risk of depression, anxiety and
In the past 25 years, preterm births have increased by 36
per cent. The changes are linked to several reasons, such
as infertility treatments and increases in mothers’ ages,
multiple births, obesity and decisions to induce labour or
deliver by Caesarean section before 39 weeks.
Ideally, pregnancy is at least 39 weeks, giving a baby time
to gain weight and physically develop.
for moms and
Babies born even three and four weeks early may
face health concerns
A healthy pregnancy relies on making healthy choices
throughout its duration.
“Women who choose not to smoke or use alcohol in
pregnancy, who gain the recommended amount of weight,
as well as women who establish good support networks and
healthy relationships are more likely to have healthy babies,”
says Suzanne Tough, a study co-author, professor in the
departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences
at the University of Calgary, and Health Scholar for Alberta
— Colleen Seto
For more information, see Quick Tips: Healthy Pregnancy
Habits at myhealth.alberta.ca or call Health Link Alberta at
1-866-408-5465 (LINK) for the prenatal support program or
service nearest you
Ideally, pregnancy is at least 39 weeks, giving a baby time to gain
weight and physically develop.