what is the age of viability for a fetus

what is the age of viability for a fetus

what is the age of viability for a fetus

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What is fetal viability?

In biological terms, viability is the ability to survive successfully. A fetus is considered viable if it has reached a stage of development where it is able to live outside of its mother’s womb.

Gestational age is a major determining factor in whether a baby will be viable, since the longer a fetus spends in the womb, the more fully developed it is when it enters the world. That said, there are other important considerations that can determine whether a baby born very early will ultimately survive. These include:

  • Fetal weight. In general, babies weighing at least 600 grams (about 1.3 pounds) at birth have a higher chance of viability compared to those who weigh less.
  • Fetal sex and plurality. Some research shows that girls are more likely to survive when born at earlier ages compared to boys, while preemie singletons often fare better than compared to early-born multiples.
  • The care a woman receives before birth. In some cases, treatments like corticosteroids, antibiotics or magnesium during pregnancy (often just before delivery) can help increase a baby’s chance for survival after birth.
  • The care a baby receives immediately after birth. Babies who are born in hospitals with an advanced neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can more likely get the life-saving treatments they need right away.
what is the age of viability for a fetus
what is the age of viability for a fetus


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What is the point of fetal viability?

Fetal viability depends on many different factors, making it hard to pinpoint an age at which a baby born very, very early can definitely survive.

Babies born before the third trimester (before 27 weeks of pregnancy) are considered periviable — or near the limit of viability. Because they’re still very underdeveloped, periviable babies require life-saving interventions immediately after delivery and receive advanced care in a high-level NICU setting in order to survive. Even with the best possible care, they may experience short- and long-term problems.

While all births that occur before the third trimester pose extremely high risks, the odds for survival increase significantly at around 24 weeks. What’s more, medical advances mean that the survival rates for very premature babies — including those born before 24 weeks — are higher than ever.

Here’s what past research and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has found about viability based on gestational age:

  • 26 weeks. As a fetus reaches its last week of the second trimester, the odds for viability are between 86 and 89 percent.
  • 25 weeks. Fetuses at 25 weeks have around a 67 to 76 percent chance of viability.
  • 24 weeks. Doctors typically consider the 24-week mark to be the point of potential viability, though at that age, survival is still far from guaranteed. Fetal viability at 24 weeks ranges from 42 to 59 percent, according to ACOG. But some studies have found the chances for survival to run as high as 68 percent.
  • 23 weeks. Babies born at 23 weeks typically have a 23 to 27 percent chance for survival.
  • 22 weeks or earlier. The chances of viability before 23 weeks is low — about 5 to 6 percent.
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what is the age of viability for a fetus
what is the age of viability for a fetus

What Is Considered a Premature Birth?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the preterm birth rate is around 10%, with a higher incidence among younger (teen), Black (14.4% vs. 9.3% for white women and 10% for Hispanic women), and older (age 35 and above) mothers.

Very preterm births account for approximately 1.6% of all live births in the United States.

To provide a better idea of how early deliveries are categorized, doctors break down the gestational week ranges as follows:

  • Extremely preterm: Gestational age at or below 28 weeks
  • Very preterm: Gestational age at or below 32 weeks
  • Moderately preterm: Gestational age between 32 weeks and 33 weeks and 6 days
  • Late preterm: Gestational age between 34 weeks and 36 weeks and 6 days

Note that the vast majority of premature births take place during the late preterm period.


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