Gestational Age

Daisy Rogozinsky
October 23, 2022

Gestational age is an important tool used to monitor the progress of a pregnancy. In this article, we’ll define the term “gestational age” and explain how it relates to birth injury law.

Key Takeaways

  • Gestational age is used to describe how far along a pregnancy is
  • Gestational age is not the same as fetal age, which is two weeks behind
  • Gestational age is calculated from the first day of the pregnant person’s last menstrual period to the present day
  • At birth, babies are classified as either small, large, or appropriate for their gestational age
  • Gestational age is an important tool for evaluating a fetus’s health and deciding how to proceed with prenatal care, labor, and delivery
  • A failure to properly measure and respond to gestational age leading to birth injury may be considered medical malpractice

What Is Gestational Age?

Gestational age is the term used to describe how far along a pregnancy is. It is measured in weeks from the first day of the pregnant parent’s last menstrual cycle to the current date. 

Gestational age is used for a number of purposes including:

  • Estimating a due date
  • Informing obstetrical testing and care
  • Evaluating the baby’s health at birth
  • Determining if the fetus is growing as expected
  • Aiding in decisions about when to perform certain prenatal screenings

A normal pregnancy ranges from 38 to 42 weeks of gestational age. Babies born before 37 weeks are considered premature. Babies born after 42 weeks are considered post-mature.

Gestational Age and Fetal Age

It is important to note that gestational age and fetal age are not the same. Gestational age starts with the data of the last menstrual period. In contrast, fetal age starts at the time of conception when the sperm fertilizes the egg. As such, fetal age is two weeks behind gestational age, describing the actual age of the fetus. 

Determining Gestational Age

Because parents do not always know when conception occurred, healthcare providers can determine gestational age by using ultrasounds and looking at the pregnant parent’s menstrual cycle. 

Gestational age is calculated from the first day of the pregnant person’s last menstrual period to the present day. Therefore it technically includes the two weeks prior to conception, before the person is pregnant.

Using the menstrual period to determine gestational age assumes the pregnant person has a regular 28-day cycle, which is not always the case. To bridge the gap, fetal ultrasounds can provide more information. The most accurate way to determine gestational age is through first-trimester ultrasounds measuring the length of the fetus from the top of the head to the bottom of the buttocks, also called crown-rump length (CRL). 

Later on in pregnancy, ultrasounds measure specific parts of the fetus’s body including the abdomen, head, and femur to confirm gestational age and fetal growth. 

Gestational Age at Birth

At birth, healthcare professionals evaluate a baby’s condition to determine how it relates to its gestational age. This includes looking at factors such as:

  • Weight
  • Vital signs
  • Reflexes
  • Posture
  • Hair condition
  • Muscle tone
  • Head circumference
  • Skin condition
  • Height

Based on these factors and how they compare to its calendar age, the baby is classified as one of the following:

  • Small for gestational age (SGA)
  • Large for gestational age (LGA)
  • Appropriate for gestational age (AGA)

Full-term babies who are AGA on average weigh between 5.5 and 8.75 pounds.

Gestational Age and Birth Injury Law

Gestational age is an important tool used to determine various factors in how healthcare professionals treat a pregnancy, labor, and delivery. For example, fetuses that are small or large for their gestational age must be more closely monitored and may require an early or cesarean section delivery. Otherwise, there may be complications such as fetal distress, prolonged labor, brain damage, and more.

It is the duty of medical professionals to properly measure gestational and respond accordingly. A failure to do so is considered negligence and, if it leads to birth injury, may constitute medical malpractice.

If your baby experienced a birth injury because your doctors did not properly measure or respond to gestational age, you may be eligible for compensation for your losses. It is recommended that you speak to an experienced birth injury lawyer who will be able to help you move forward with your case.

Featured Birth Injury Lawyers

Timothy J. King, Attorney at Law

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