At the end of pregnancy, many women feel like the days are crawling by…so…very…slowly! Babies “can” be safely born anytime after 37 weeks, so women are often checking every day for signs of labor. But some babies like to make you wait. Babies may not be born until 41 or 42 weeks, and in rare cases, even longer than that! Once you’ve hit your due date, you’re hoping every day is “it.” And you may be disappointed with each day that you end without a baby in your arms, or at least some promising contractions. What’s an overdue mom to do?
The entire notion of a “due date” has become a little too important in our society. Many women look up what their due date would be the second they get the positive test…or, in some cases, as soon as they start trying (“So if I ovulate on this day, and my period ended that day, then our due date if we conceive this month would be…”). This date then gets circled on the calendar as D-Day: Delivery Day.
But due dates are only an estimate of when your baby will be born. They are based on an average 28-day menstrual cycle and average gestation. And that’s assuming you actually know when your last period was and/or the date you conceived!
A variety of factors can affect your due date. For example, if you have unusually long cycles, you don’t ovulate until later in your cycle, meaning you could be a week or more “behind” what other women are (i.e. with a 35-day cycle, you don’t ovulate until around day 21 instead of day 14, so your due date should really be pushed back a full week too). If you know the actual conception date (the date you ovulated), this is a more accurate way to predict your “due date.”
Babies also require different lengths of time to grow before they’re born. Some babies are born perfectly healthy at 37 weeks; others really require 42. Just as no children grow and develop at the same rate after birth, neither do they in the womb.
It is helpful to keep this in mind when you are anticipating your “due date.” It is more appropriate to look at as an approximate time around which your baby will be born. It’s also wise to keep this in mind when you’re going nuts at the end. Asking for an induction that is not medically necessary may not be wise for your baby’s health. It’s hard to wait; you’re uncomfortable! But it is worth it.
When “The Day” Comes and Goes
Expect, especially if it’s your first pregnancy, that this will happen. Most first-time moms who are not induced will carry to around 41 weeks. It’s normal!
If you are so inclined, you can try some at-home induction methods: they will not work anyway if baby is not ready to come, but they’ll keep you occupied. These include:
- Drinking red raspberry leaf tea (a good idea anyway)
- Nipple stimulation
- Eating fresh pineapple
Who knows if they’ll work. But at least you’re not bored, right?
Remember: this, too, shall pass. Going overdue is not a death sentence. It is not crazy or wrong or bad.
To Induce, or Not to Induce
Some doctors will start talking about induction around the 39th week. I remember my doctor saying to me at my 39-week appointment (the first time; I never made it quite that far the second!), “If you don’t have the baby by next week we’ll talk about induction.” I had the baby 3 days later, thanks. But it was depressing to hear that.
There is no reason to automatically induce a woman at 39, 40, or 41 weeks. Doctors treat a due date as a “best before” date, usually based on a first-trimester ultrasound that (relatively) accurately dates the baby. (My first baby was “due” Jan. 29 by LMP, Feb. 1 by 1st trimester ultrasound, and Jan. 25 by 2nd trimester ultrasound. She was born Jan. 26 on her own.)
Some doctors believe that after 40 weeks that babies are “in danger” or are more likely to die, which is not true — not simply based on their gestational age, anyway! The due date is treated like a “best before” date.
Doctors use the following reasons to induce (without real medical justification):
- “The baby’s getting too big, you won’t be able to birth naturally” (there is NO accurate way to measure a baby by palpations or ultrasound; plus women can easily birth babies naturally if left alone. A friend — who is a relatively small person — had a 10.5 lbs. baby naturally just last weekend!)
- “The placenta’s deteriorating” (No. If it were, the baby would naturally come. It doesn’t deteriorate just because the baby reaches the due date. As long as it is attached and getting good blood flow, it’s fine)
- “Your fluid’s low” (Maybe. But unlikely. It’s probably more true that they just can’t see the pockets of fluid because the baby’s in the way)
- “Your baby’s going to die!” (Unless they actually have a medical reason to think there is a problem, there is absolutely no excuse for saying this. Ever. Unfortunately, medical personnel sometimes will pull the ‘dead baby’ card if you don’t listen to them.)
Some doctors will want to do regular (weekly or bi-weekly) non-stress tests to make sure the baby is still okay. Really, as long as the baby is moving normally and you feel well, there’s no reason to do this. If you don’t feel well, or the baby is unusually quiet or still, it is not a bad idea to do this.
Induction is really only necessary if there is a medical reason to do it. Pre-eclampsia, not feeling well, baby not moving, and so on. If there are any concerns and you are at your due date, then induction may be the right answer.
Have you ever gone past your due date? Did you opt for induction (or get pressured into it) or not?
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