Longer Womb Time = Smarter Kids, Says Study: Yet Another Reason To Avoid Scheduled C-Sections

If you’re pregnant, you might want to erase that scheduled C-section from your calendar: a new study shows that babies who stay in the womb longer are smarter.

A study of 128,000 New York City public school children found that full-term infants born even a few weeks later than others have improved brain development, better academic test scores and slightly better reading and math skills.

Researchers say the findings raise questions about the medical definition of prematurity and whether women should be allowed to schedule Caesareans early for convenience. Lead author Dr. Kimberly Noble, an assistant pediatrics professor at Columbia University Medical Center, said mothers-to-be should “at least proceed with caution before electing to have an earlier term birth.”

A baby is considered fully developed between 37 and 41 weeks and premature if delivered before that timeframe. Some 15 percent of the children in the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, were delivered by Caesarean section, and factors such as low birth weight and smoking during pregnancy were also factored in.

The differences in the test scores between babies born in the earlier and those born later were small but noticeable. Some 2.3 percent of children born at 37 weeks had severely poor reading skills and 1.1 percent had at least moderate problems in math. Of the kids born four weeks later, the results were 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

The differences were even more stark by the time children hit the third grade: a third of the children born at 37 weeks were also more likely to have severe reading difficulty and a 19 percent greater chance of having moderate problems in math compared with kids born at 41 weeks.

Dr. Judy Aschner, a pediatrics professor and neonatology director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the Associated Press that the results should serve as fair warning to doctors and moms-to-be who schedule elective C-section deliveries instead of letting their babies stay in the womb until they’re ready. “There are still a lot of babies who are being delivered more or less electively at 37 and 38 weeks, with people thinking, ‘This is no big deal. These babies are full-term.’ I think this is a big deal,” Aschner said.

“I don’t want to panic moms whose babies come at 37 weeks,” added Aschner, “but those elective early deliveries really need to stop.”

Welp, I guess that means I have to stop making fun of Mari for refusing to come out of my belly until she was absolutely ready. The girl was born on her due date, exactly 40 weeks after she was created with love. My OB-GYN thought she was going to be a big-headed child who would be far too large for my (then) small frame to deliver and so I was admitted into the hospital and prepped for inducement. But before the Cervidil could kick in, my water broke and Mari made her big debut a few hours of labor later. Just in time. And if this study’s proclamation that babies who stay in the womb longer is any indication, it totally explains why she straight rocks it on standardized tests and in the classroom. Though I think her parents would argue that we have a little something to do with the kid’s genius, too. After all, her sister was born a week earlier than her due date and she slays it in the schoolroom, too. So there’s that. But I’m game for any observations that can give our children a leg up, and if letting the baby stay in the womb a bit longer will help it be smarter—and cut down on health risks that come when C-sections are scheduled for convenience rather than a real need—well, bake on, babies. Bake on!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

6 Comments

  1. Both of my babies came at 37 weeks. Naturally. A scheduled c-section for convenience should be illegal.

    • I don’t know if “illegal” is the right way to go about it. My mother had to schedule her c-sections for me and my brother b/c she had to leave work at the right time. She was working in a place that didn’t afford her sick/maternity leave so she had to make sure that she worked enough so she could pay rent/medical bills.

      My parents were also immigrants that weren’t very educated and didn’t speak English then so we think they may have been pressured into accepting the doctor’s decision. This was certainly the case with my brother’s circumcision.

  2. It’s important to remember that “due dates” should really called guess dates, or something along that line. If a baby comes at 37 weeks with no complications, that baby is not early, but on time. The same can be said for a baby born at 42 weeks.

  3. Even though I had a scheduled c-section, my OB was adamant about scheduling it at 40 weeks and no sooner.
    I started having contractions the day before my c-section and had them even as I walked into the operating room.
    My 2 year old is a voracious “reader” can count in English, French and Spanish + he’s very verbal.
    I’m cool with crediting that to him being full-term.

  4. My son was 9 lbs 11 oz and came at 42 weeks after being induced. He is now 9 years old and a straight A student. This article may be on to something. I am currently 5 months pregnant with my baby girl so we shall see. Hopefully she bakes a little while longer too!

  5. My nephew, a third grader, was born a full month early through an emergency c-section. He weighed 4 pounds. He is reading at a 6th grade level. I definitely think this study is valid but I think environmental factors can help a pre-term baby. My nephew nursed until 18 months. Pre-term babies probably need more help and enrichment. Maybe there are environmental factors that pre-term babies have in common that this study doesn’t consider (and I admit I didn’t read the entire article).

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