Study shows infant death risk increased among babies born before 40 weeks

Babies born at their full gestational age — 39 weeks — are less likely to die than those born just two weeks earliers, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by the March of Dimes, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and published in the June 2011 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology. It showed the odds for death more than double for newborns born at 37 weeks versus babies born at 40 weeks of pregnancy. With each additional week of gestation, the chance of death decreases.

Prematurity is a leading cause of infant death. Pre-term birth is considered less than 37 full weeks of pregnancy, but there has been a recent rise in late pre-term births and births in general prior to 39 weeks, in part attributed to scheduled inductions and elective c-sections.

The March of Dimes stresses that an early elective delivery is harmful to a baby and should never be scheduled before 39 or 40 weeks of pregnancy.