When Is the Best Time to Schedule a C-Section?

How to Choose the Day for Your Caesarian Delivery

Pregnant women patient talking with doctor
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Many moms say one of the best parts of having a planned Caesarian section birth—C-section for short—is knowing exactly when their baby will be born. Whether you have already had one C-section and are electing not to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian delivery) or if you are planning a C-section for health or personal reasons, you can work with you doctors' office to decide when you'd like your baby's birthday to be.

While the date you choose will vary depending on your specific circumstances, there are several considerations you may want to make when choosing your baby's birthday.

Personal Factors in Choosing Your Delivery Date

There are many personal factors you may wish to consider when you schedule your C-section. It's best to avoid dates that your family associates with sadness, such as the days a person died or other traumatic moments. You may also wish to avoid or commemorate other memorable days such as birthdays and holidays.

Another point you may want to consider is school. Take a moment to think about when your child will be celebrating her birthday at school. There's probably not enough leeway to avoid a summer birthday, but the difference in a few days might determine if your child will have her birthday on a school day or over Christmas vacation. As we grow older, the day of our birthday often becomes less important, but this can be very significant for a school age child.

Some people prefer one day of the week over another (if that works with your obstetrician's schedule.) Whatever the reason for your choice, it is your choice, and you don't need to justify it to others.

Reasons for Early C-Sections

Sometimes C-sections must be done before 39 weeks of gestation. Examples might include:

  • Higher order multiples
  • Placenta previa with risk of bleeding
  • Fetal distress

C-sections scheduled prior to 39 weeks have an increased risk of complications but your doctor may feel that the benefits of scheduling your C-section early in your situation outweighs any potential risks. An example would be with triplets, in which the benefits of delivering early clearly outweigh the risks of waiting until after 39 weeks.

Reasons to Schedule C-Sections After 39 Weeks

When calling to plan your C-section, you might be surprised to learn your doctor wants to delay your procedure. Although a baby is considered full-term after 37 weeks, most doctors' offices won't schedule a C-section until you have reached 39 weeks gestation.

Why won't doctors schedule C-sections before 39 weeks?

Babies develop at different rates, and some aren't ready to be born at the 37-week mark. Over the past decade, doctors have studied late preterm births in depth. One surprising discovery is that the health concerns of late-preterm births don't disappear until about 39 weeks gestation. Babies born before 39 weeks may still have some of the health problems that late preterm babies face, including:

  • Poor ability to maintain their temperature or problems with thermoregulation
  • Jaundice
  • Feeding difficulties

Late preterm infants may also experience developmental delays which persist until the age of 2, especially in the area of language development.

If the discomforts of late pregnancy have you itching to meet your baby, take heart. By postponing your delivery until at least 39 weeks, you are giving your baby the best possible start.

Bottom Line on When to Schedule Your C-Section

It's not always possible to choose the date for your C-section, but when you can, there are several personal factors you may wish to consider.

You may have a special day that you can commemorate, or in contrast, you may wish to avoid certain days, such as the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Every woman is different. Talk with your doctor about what she feels is the best time for delivery, and share your own personal wishes.

Most of the time, a C-section should not be scheduled until you have reached 39 weeks. While 37 weeks and on has long been considered term, we are learning that babies born between 37 and 39 weeks (late preterm births) may have some of the complications faced by early preterm babies.

There are times, however, when the benefits of having a C-section before 39 weeks outweighs any risks, such as with the deliver of triplets.

Sources:

Cheong, J., Doyle, L., Burnett, A. et al. Association Between Moderate and Late Preterm Birth and Neurodevelopment and Social-Emotional Development at Age 2 Years. JAMA Pediatrics. 2017. 171(4):e164805.

Cunningham, F. Gary., and John Whitridge Williams. Williams Obstetrics. New York: McGraw-Hill Education Medical, 2014. Print.

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