There is a paranoia in our culture about big babies, who often terrify doctors and expectant mothers alike. But a new study shows that there are huge advantages to patiently allowing a baby to go full-term and keep growing until they are ready to be born -- along with being generally healthier at birth, they do better and achieve more in school than their lighter weight counterparts.
This certainly comes as good news to mothers who want to avoid induction of labor because the baby might be getting "too big." Overall, researchers found that six pound babies do better when they go to school than five pound newborns; seven pound babies do better than six pounders; and so on through 10 pound babies, who do better than their nine pound counterparts, reports the New York Times.
The study, still in draft form, covers most of the children born in Florida over an 11-year span, comparing birth records to school records, and will soon be published in the journal American Economic Review. David N. Figlio is a co-author of the study and a professor at Northwestern University. The study controlled for a long list of factors that could impact the findings, including socio-economic factors and school quality. They also examined results among twins.
They found that, across the board, bigger babies generally fare better when they go to school. According to Medical Daily, increased birth weight "correlated with an increase in scores on reading and math tests between third and eighth grade."
Figlio told the New York Times that, "all else equal, a 10-pound baby will score an average of 80 points higher on the 1,600-point SAT than a six-pound baby." That is a significant difference. When the researchers looked at just the top performing students, they found that, "among the top 5 percent of test scorers in elementary school, one in three weighed at least eight pounds at birth, compared with only one in four of all babies."
"Birth weight matters, and it matters for everyone."
Rather to be feared, the data shows that these "chunky monkeys" need to be embraced. Many times women are told that their births must be induced or be a c-section because their babies are "getting too big."
One of the things that is greatly feared about big babies is a complication called shoulder dystocia, a serious complication where the baby's shoulders get stuck in the birth canals. Often babies are induced or mothers sectioned in the effort to avoid the problem in big babies. However, The Unnecesarean points out the flaw in that thinking: fully "one half of all cases of shoulder dystocia occur at birth weights of less than the most commonly used cut-off—4,000 g" or 8 lbs., 13 oz., according to a study in the American Family Physician.
Another reason for inducing big babies or babies that go beyond 40 or 41 weeks is the fear that the baby will be in trouble if the mother is allowed to "go longer," waiting for her body to naturally go into labor. A term pregnancy has long been considered to be one that reaches at least 37 weeks, after which it is fine to induce or schedule a cesarean. However, there is a growing body of research that shows that babies truly need to reach 39 weeks at the minimum in order to avoid a host of complications for both baby and mother, according to the New York Times.
These include respiratory problems, issues with hearing and vision, jaundice, infection, increased time in the hospital, including in the NICU. For mothers, they include more postpartum depression, longer, more difficult labors, and increased risk of c-section with induction of labor, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
That being said, according to a New York Times interview with Dr. Uma M. Reddy, it is a "whole different story when a woman goes into labor early than when labor is induced." She is with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Then, there are compensatory measures in both the mother and the baby that come into play to protect the baby. Those measures, such as increased surfactant production in the baby's lungs, don't happen when labor is induced.
Normal birth advocate and instructor of midwives Gloria Lemay points out that oft-cited research that says babies need to be born no later than 41 weeks is actually based on poor science.
"'Ritual' induction at 41 weeks gestation is based on flawed evidence."
The group ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) has a beautifully victorious photo journal on YouTube, documenting a number of cases where women had c-sections for babies that were "too big" to be birthed normally. The diagnosis that the women were given was CPD -- cephalopelvic disproportion. In other words, baby's head was too big to fit through mom's pelvis. However, the videos show that many of these mothers had VBACs (vaginal births after cesarean) or HBACs (homebirth after cesarean) for subsequent babies who were as big, and sometimes significantly bigger, than than the babies that they were told they couldn't birth!
To Carla Hartley, founder of Ancient Art Midwifery Institute and the Trust Birth Initiative, the new study that bigger babies do better in school is no surprise. She told The Inquisitr that she has long proclaimed, "Don't give babies an eviction notice."
"Smaller babies are not necessarily easier to birth. You can have a large baby and have less pain. Birth is chemistry even more than it is mechanical."