OBJECTIVES: To estimate women’s understanding of the definition of full term and the gestational age at which it is safe to deliver an otherwise healthy pregnancy.
METHODS: A national sample of 650 insured women who recently gave birth were surveyed about their beliefs related to the meaning of full term and the safety of delivery at various gestational ages. Descriptive statistics including means and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for the demographic variables and survey measures; multivariate logistic regression analyses were also performed.
RESULTS: Twenty-four percent of women surveyed considered a baby of 34–36 weeks of gestation to be full term, and 50.8% believed full term to occur at 37–38 weeks of gestation, while only 25.2% considered full term to occur at 39–40 weeks of gestation. In response to, “What is the earliest point in pregnancy that it is safe to deliver the baby, should there be no other medical complications requiring early delivery?” 51.7% choose 34–36 weeks of gestation, and 40.7% choose 37–38 weeks of gestation, while only 7.6% choose 39–40 weeks of gestation.
CONCLUSION: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that elective deliveries not occur before 39 weeks of gestation. However, many women believe that full term is reached before 37 weeks of gestation, and most believe full term occurs before 39 weeks of gestation. Nearly half believe it is safe to deliver before 37 weeks of gestation, and almost all believe it is safe to deliver before 39 weeks of gestation. The data reported here suggest that many women believe that term is reached early and that a safe delivery does not require waiting to 39 weeks of gestation.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: III