What Is Gestational Age?
You’ve probably heard people say that a pregnancy typically lasts about nine months (or 38 weeks).
But in the U.S., healthcare professionals typically calculate the length of a pregnancy by gestational age. Gestational age is the number of weeks that have passed since a woman’s last normal menstrual period.
Especially in the early stages of pregnancy, a physician can confirm the gestational age of your pregnancy through a physical exam.
What is Conceptional Age?
Gestational age is not the same thing as conceptional age. Conceptional age is how much time has passed since actual conception1 (fertilization). Conception cannot take place until you ovulate, and that typically happens about 14 days after the start of your monthly period.
So conceptional age will always be about 14 days younger than gestational age. The average length of a full-term pregnancy is about 280 days, or 40 gestational weeks from the first day of the last period. The average length of a full-term pregnancy from the time of conception is about 266 days or 38 conceptional weeks from the day of conception.
Under South Carolina’s abortion law, the first trimester is defined by conceptional age.
How to Calculate Gestational Age
- Find the date of the first day of your last menstrual period on a calendar.
- Count the number of weeks that have passed starting with the date of the first day of your last normal period until today’s date. For example, if your last menstrual period started on July 1st and today’s date is August 1st, the gestational age is 4 weeks.
You can also use the calculator below to figure out gestational age and due date.
Another Way to Know Gestational Age: Ultrasound
Your doctor can also use ultrasound to figure out the estimated due date. Ultrasound is a painless technique used by healthcare professionals to create an image of internal body parts or monitor a pregnancy. The image is created from high-frequency sound waves.
Ultrasound uses the size of the fetus to determine the gestational age (the time that has passed since the first day of your last period).
You Can Request to See an Ultrasound
If you are pregnant and considering an abortion, the physician who will perform the procedure may do an ultrasound to confirm gestational age. If an ultrasound is performed, you have the right to view the ultrasound image if you so choose. In fact, by law, the physician or the physician’s assistant must ask you if you want to view the image. But viewing the image is not required.
Some centers do not perform abortions but do offer free obstetric ultrasounds to females who are pregnant and considering abortion. DHEC is currently seeking the names of any S.C. organizations that provide free obstetric ultrasounds. A list of these organizations is available here.
If you do decide to receive an ultrasound and to seek an abortion, be aware that there is a required 1 hour wait time between getting an ultrasound and terminating a pregnancy (except when medically necessary).
1 Section 44-41-10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws defines ‘conception" as “the fecundation of the ovum by the spermatozoa.”
Next: The Role of Genetics