Most times when a woman finds out she is pregnant, one of the first prenatal appointments involves giving her a “due date.” This is the point in time when her baby is expected to arrive. If not on the date, the expectation is usually that she will give birth very close to the due date whether or not is based on evidence.
Sometimes without meaning to, a lot of emphasis is put on this date, even though statistically a very small percentage of women actually give birth on it. During a lot of hospital birth, there isn’t much flexibility around a woman’s due date either. But it is not an expiration date. In most cases, a woman’s uterus doesn’t suddenly become inhospitable at the 40 week mark. Still, many times it is treated as bad or very scary if 40 weeks comes and goes with no baby.
If a woman goes past 40 weeks, typically there is a lot of stress involved for everyone, especially the mother-to-be. Friends and relatives are calling constantly to check in. Well-meaning acquaintances are asking when you will schedule your induction. Many people are likely wondering why there is no baby yet, and letting the expecting mother know “my doctor didn’t let me go past 40 weeks!”
There is a lot of misinformation about “due dates” which is often the culprit behind all this added stress. Even though it’s sometimes true that the end of pregnancy can feel long and drawn out, like time has slowed down or come to a screeching halt, in most cases there is no cause for alarm. Practicing patience during the final days and weeks of pregnancy is important for many reasons.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your baby safe and your stress to a minimum in the final weeks of pregnancy:
Due dates are guess-timates - Like fruits and vegetables, which ripen at different times, not all babies need exactly the same amount of time in utero (and typically, boys take longer than girls). Therefore a due date cannot possibly be an accurate prediction of when a woman will go into labor and give birth. Due dates are purely a guess, so we shouldn’t treat that date, or even that week, as if it’s set in stone.
Most first-time mothers go 7-10 days post date- While 40 weeks is the “guess-timate given to all pregnant women, most first-time will go a week or more longer than that. For many first-time moms, the expectation is that they will be holding their new baby and already entrenched in new motherhood by that 40 week mark. Most times, that’s not the case. Most new moms go until at least 41 weeks, sometimes longer.
Any time between 37 and 42 weeks is a normal gestation. Considering how much pressure we put on the “due date”, that seems like pretty a huge span of time. But it’s important to recognize how different women’s bodies and their baby’s needs are because two women with the same due date could easily deliver 5 weeks apart and that should be considered completely normal. Statistically, most mothers will deliver by the 42 week mark.
Many important things happen in the final weeks and days of pregnancy- Pushing a baby into labor at 40 or 41 weeks that isn’t ready to come leads to more cesarean birth. In most cases, the body knows when to have a baby and the baby knows when to be born. There are lots of things happening at the end of pregnancy like lung development, which new research says affects when labor begins. In the final days of pregnancy, baby is busy getting in optimum position for giving birth, too.
Post-date testing, rather than induction, is more evidence-based- Here at SVC, moms start post date testing protocol at 41 weeks and 2 days. This includes an ultrasound to check fluid, checking baby’s heart-rate, making sure there is good fetal movement, etc. This is repeated every 2-3 days to make sure everything is staying normal and that there is no medical need for an induction. Rather than using induction as the one-size fits all model of care, we are able to access whether or not an induction is actually needed.
While supporting a mother through a pregnancy that might go days, a week, or even longer past her due date requires a bit more care, it’s care we are happy to give because we know just how special and important this time in a pregnancy is. Usually, that care comes down to just reminding mom that her baby is coming soon and that the end of pregnancy is perhaps her first parenting lesson- that of patience. It might not come easy, but when planning your child’s entry, it is important to remember that the due date is largely a myth, and more than likely, your baby will come right on time.
Using the final days to bond with your baby, prepare your body for birth, or just relax and do your favorite things can be a wonderful coping method for all the waiting. Pretty soon, there won’t be any more waiting. Your baby will be out in the world and in your arms and while you might wish you had the perfect carrying compartment for baby once more (so you could use both of your hands again), you can’t relive those last few weeks and days. The only prescription is to keep calm and relish in them if you can.