There’s not a heavily pregnant woman alive who hasn’t wondered when she’s going to give birth.
Search any online birth group, or social media page, and you’ll find women asking about the best way to get labour started.
You might be a few days overdue, a few days away from being induced, or a few days ‘totally over’ being pregnant.
Whatever the case, it’s really important to understand the difference between being past your estimated due date and actually being post-term pregnant.
When Am I Overdue?
When your pregnancy is confirmed, your care provider will calculate when you’re likely to be 40 weeks pregnant. That date will be given as your estimated due date (EDD).
Once an EDD is determined, even if it changes (and that can happen), your maternity care will be based on that one date.
Your baby’s growth, your scheduled health checks, and the booking of your maternity care provider are all factors that depend on the estimated date you will give birth.
While these are important things to take into consideration, the problem arises when women (and their care providers) regard the EDD as a deadline.
The EDD still persists as the benchmark for when a pregnancy is complete and labour should begin. If the baby hasn’t arrived by that date, everyone tends to view the pregnancy as overdue.
In fact, only 5% of babies are actually born on their due date.
So did nature get something incredibly wrong?
Why do we think babies are overdue when they aren’t born on a date they weren’t likely to be born on anyway?
The idea that the EDD indicates ‘time’s up’ is a myth. It doesn’t take into consideration any of the known facts about conception and gestation.
When Am I Really Overdue?
The difficulty in knowing when you’re overdue comes about because of language, and phrases like ‘full term’. It’s also because the EDD is still used as the date when a baby is ‘supposed’ to be born.
The way in which pregnancy gestation is discussed can differ between countries, and among different care providers; this adds to the confusion.
In the past, a pregnancy lasting between 37 to 42 weeks was called a term pregnancy. Women were given an EDD based on pregnancy lasting 280 days from the date of their last menstrual period.
Find out more in our article, Estimated Due Dates And The Myth Of The 40 Week Pregnancy.
More current evidence shows this method of estimating pregnancy gestation is, at best, just a guess.
There are many individual factors that can influence the length of gestation, such as the mother being older, longer implantation, or rapid increases in progesterone.
Using a ‘one size fits all’ rule can lead to the use of unnecessary interventions, with the potential for serious complications for mothers and babies.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a leading maternity health organisation, has admitted gestation should not be considered ‘overdue’ until after 42 completed weeks of pregnancy.
But Everyone Says I’m Overdue
If you’ve reached or passed your EDD, you might find you’ve gone, overnight, from being just ‘pregnant’ to ‘overdue’.
It can be stressful to answer the question ‘When are you due?’ when you’ve already passed your EDD.
Everyone looks at you as though you’re a ticking time bomb, and about to go into labour immediately. Or as though you’re not doing something right: where is that baby?
But remember, your EDD isn’t like an internal timer, which suddenly goes off and labour starts. You might gestate for another few days, or even a few more weeks. You might have passed your EDD but you are not post-term pregnant until you are more than 42 weeks.
Does It Matter If I Go Past My EDD?
As mentioned above, only 5% of babies are born on their due date. Nature doesn’t get this important stuff wrong.
During the last trimester of pregnancy, your baby and your body make preparations for labour. There are changes you might not notice for what they are, and some that you can’t see.
Your baby needs as much time as possible in utero, and until she’s ready for life outside, labour won’t begin.
You can read more about this in What Causes Labour To Start?
Care providers often become concerned when pregnancy goes past full term, because of a very small number of babies who die while still in utero. The number of babies who are stillborn increases between 40 and 42 weeks, and again after 43 weeks; this is still, however, a very small number.
Experts don’t understand why the chance of stillbirth increases as the weeks of pregnancy advance. There are several theories, such as the length of pregnancy, the overall health of mother and baby, or the placenta functioning less efficiently.
The longer gestation goes on past 40 weeks, the greater the risk of other complications, for mothers and babies. These risks need to be taken into consideration, but balanced against the risks of induction.
What Happens When I’m Past My EDD?
At your 41 week appointment, your care provider might offer to book you in for an induction. Depending on the policy of your hospital, this could be anything from 7 to 10 days later. Some hospitals will wait until you’re 42 weeks before suggesting an induction.
One of the more challenging things women go through is the pressure to be induced once they are past their EDD.
In the 2013 Listening To Mothers III Survey, over 41% of women reported their care providers wanted to induce labour.
The women were asked to select the reasons why they were induced. Almost 45% of all women induced said it was because they were close to their due date. Another 18% of women said induction had happened because their care providers were concerned they were ‘overdue’.
It’s important to know you don’t have to agree to an induction. Being past your EDD is not a medical reason to induce labour. If you have had a healthy pregnancy, and your baby is doing well, you can choose to wait until labour begins on its own.
You might like to remind your care provider that ACOG has redefined ‘term pregnancy’, using the following categories:
- Early term babies are born between 37 weeks 0 days and 38 weeks 6 days
- Full term babies are born between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days.
- Late term babies are born between 41 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 6 days
- Post-term babies are born at 42 weeks and 0 days or later
ACOG considers post-term, or being 42+ weeks, as the definition of overdue.
Your care provider might offer to do a vaginal examination to see if your cervix feels ready for labour, and possibly perform a membrane sweep to see if that will trigger labour.
Again, these things are optional. You can refuse to have a vaginal examination and membrane sweep. Your cervix might be soft and stretchy but this is not a sign you will go into labour after a sweep.
It is simply a sign your body is preparing for labour, and whether that will happen in a few hours or days is unknown.
Read Membrane Sweep – 6 Facts To Consider Before Having One for more information.
Your care provider should also outline the alternative option of waiting for labour to being spontaneously. You can ask to have monitoring every 2-3 days to check your baby’s wellbeing.
This will be offered if your pregnancy continues past 42 weeks. You will have an ultrasound scan to check your baby’s movements and also to estimate the levels of amniotic fluid in your uterus.
What Should I Do If I’m Past My EDD?
If you have reached your EDD and your baby hasn’t been born you will most likely feel frustrated. Especially if you’ve been focusing on that date for your entire pregnancy.
Pro tip: it’s always a good idea to add two weeks to your EDD and give out the new date as your official due date. Or simply tell people which month you are due in: ‘some time in September’.
You’ll probably find everyone you know – and even those you don’t – will take a close interest in what’s happening once you’ve reached your EDD. Advice about what you need to do to get that baby out will start flying in from all directions.
People will offer you well-meaning advice on the finer points of getting labour started – ranging from drinking buckets of pineapple juice to having sex.
It’s hard to relax and let nature take its course when you feel like a watched pot.
Understandably, you might be tempted to try to ‘get things going’. You’re probably over being this size, and you really want to meet your baby.
It might seem harmless to start on the spicy foods, and climb a lot of stairs, but the act of trying to get labour going interferes with the important processes already going on in your body.
Labour is triggered by a complex mechanism we don’t fully understand. But we do know hormones play an important role. Nothing we can do, whether it’s bouncing on a ball or inserting evening primrose oil, will set that machine in motion before it’s ready.
This is the time to dig deep and remember your baby needs these extra days or weeks to put the finishing touches to brain development, fat distribution and, very importantly, lung development.
The best thing you can do right now is to focus on the amazing job your body is doing. And the job is almost at an end. The exact moment you will go into labour is unknown, but until that time, just enjoy this final period of closeness with your baby.
For more tips check out What To Do When Waiting For Labour To Start.