How can we tell if baby will come early or late? It’s the million-dollar question.
If only we had a crystal ball that gave us this information.
But we don’t, so how can we tell when the baby will arrive?
Read on to find out how to tell if baby will come early or late.
Will my baby come early or late?
First, we need to clear up how the terms ‘early’ and ‘late’ are used.
When you fall pregnant, your doctor calculates an estimated due date. This is counted from the first day of your last menstrual cycle.
For many reasons, this due date could be slightly wrong.
Women’s menstrual cycles aren’t always regular, ovulation doesn’t necessarily happen at the exact same time, and babies don’t all gestate to the exact same schedule.
We know this, and doctors and health experts know it, too. But there’s still a persistent focus on the due date being the birth date.
Your baby has a 3-5% chance of being born on her estimated due date. Because there’s so much focus pinned on the due date, though, if babies are born before or after, they’re talked about as being early or late.
‘Early’ technically means premature, or before 37 weeks pregnant. ‘Late’ is officially after 42 completed weeks of pregnancy, or post dates.
Does your body or the baby decide when labor starts?
News flash: the reason babies arrive at a particular time is because they decide they’re ready for life outside the cozy womb.
It’s because their lungs need to be able to cope with breathing air after birth.
When the lungs have reached the point where they are ready, a special chemical signal is sent to the mother, to kick start labor.
You might be interested in reading What Causes Labor To Start?.
How accurate are due dates?
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about due date accuracy.
Historically, due dates were calculated by using the Naegele Rule in the first trimester; this assumes all women have a 28-day cycle.
As we know, though, not all women have a 28-day cycle, and ovulation can occur earlier or later than presumed.
Ultrasound is also used to measure the baby and calculate a due date. This is said to be the most accurate way to estimate a due date but it’s not completely foolproof.
Want to work out why you’ve been given different due dates?
Check out What Does AUA Mean On A Scan Result? for more information.
Ultimately, the date your baby will be born is a guess.
Research has shown pregnancy length can vary by up to five weeks. This leads us to ask whether we would be better off having a due month rather than a due date.
For more information please read Estimated Due Dates And The Myth Of The 40 Week Pregnancy.
Are first babies early or late?
First babies are always said to be late – but why? Is the first baby being late actually a thing?
Let’s take a look at some statistics for first babies, born after labor started spontaneously:
- Babies born at 35 weeks: 1.4%
- Babies born at 36 weeks: 2.7%
- Babies born at 37 weeks: 6.4%
- Babies born at 38 weeks: 13.6%
- Babies born at 39 weeks: 25.3%
- Babies born at 40 weeks: 31.9%
- Babies born at 41 weeks: 16.5%
- Babies born at 42 weeks: 2%
- Babies born at 43 weeks: 0.1%
Average week to give birth for a first-time mother
It appears from the above statistics that most first-time babies are born in the 40th week, which means from 40 weeks 0 days to 40 weeks 6 days. Those first babies aren’t coming early!
Do first pregnancies usually go full term?
Looking at the statistics above, most first babies are born full term, which is the 40th week. This means you’ve got plenty of time to get prepared for your baby’s arrival.
What makes a baby come early?
Generally, if babies are born prematurely, there is something abnormal that has occurred to cause it.
The most common reasons for premature birth are:
- Multiple pregnancies such as twins or triplets
- Chronic conditions that aren’t controlled, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Smoking, drug use, and stress can also cause preterm labor and birth.
Contact your health care provider immediately if you have any signs of premature labor in your pregnancy. Early management and treatment are very important, to minimize the risk of premature birth for your baby.
How late can you have baby?
Some women will go to 42 weeks of pregnancy and beyond, and this is normal for them. There’s little evidence to show how many women actually will gestate to this date, because most women are induced before they reach 42 weeks.
If you have had an uneventful pregnancy with no complications, all the evidence points towards it being safe to continue without intervention.
The most difficult thing to deal with at 42 weeks of pregnancy and being post-dates is the pressure you might receive from family and medical doctors to have an induction.
You can make an informed decision to wait it out or to choose a labor induction, but you will need a lot of support.
Be sure to read 15 Self Care Tips For 42 Weeks Pregnant Mamas for ways to get through this challenging time.
You may also be interested in reading 42 Weeks Pregnant – What To Expect This Week.
What is the earliest you can be induced?
Having an induction of labor is never an easy choice. Ideally, it’s best to wait for your little one to choose her own birthday. There are risks of induction, such as c-section, which means it’s not always the best choice.
There are some situations, however, where it is safer for baby to be born.
If we had to choose a birth date, at least 37 weeks is ideal, as this is classified as early full-term. Your baby is fully developed at this stage, and should cope very well with being born before labor starts on its own.
If you are being pressured to be induced, make sure you have all the information to make an informed choice.
Be sure to read 8 Reasons To Say No To Labor Induction.
Does baby move a lot before labor?
During pregnancy, you’ll start to notice your little one has developed a certain pattern of movement. This might be more movement during the morning, or perhaps late at night.
Your baby’s pattern of movements won’t change just before you notice signs of labor, despite the popular myth that it is a sign of labor.
If you feel less movement or excessive movement, call your doctor or midwife immediately, as it’s potentially a sign baby is in distress.
For more information about this important topic please read Do All Babies Go Quiet Before Labour?.
How to tell whether baby will come early or late?
Some people insist on taking one look at you and your bump and swearing they see a sign of labor and baby will be born by X date.
In fact, if you’re having a healthy pregnancy, there’s no real way to predict whether or not your baby will come by a certain date.
The way you’re carrying or the size of your bump certainly doesn’t give that information away.
Signs that baby is 24 to 48 hours away
Your baby will come when she’s ready. That doesn’t stop you from being aware of any different niggles that suggest baby is going to make an appearance in the next few days.
The most common signs your baby and body are gearing up for labor are:
- Cramping. Period-like pain low in the pelvis, near your pubic bone where your cervix is
- Mucus plug. This can start to show after you wipe for some time before labor starts but it’s a sign the cervix is beginning to thin and dilate. It is usually a pinkish color, with a thick snot-like appearance
- Backache. It’s hard to tell whether this is just pregnancy-related until after labor begins for real. Back pain can be a dull ache around the sacrum area
- Contractions that become regular and increase in intensity and get closer together. These aren’t the same as Braxton Hicks contractions, which aren’t painful and don’t last.
If your water breaks before labor contractions start, this is a pretty rare sign of labor, which only happens in up to 10% of pregnancies.
If it happens, the water might leak from a small rupture in the amniotic sac rather than gush out. The amniotic fluid should be clear or straw-colored.
If it’s yellow or green, this means your baby has pooped (meconium) in the waters and might be distressed.
There should be no foul odor. If the liquid smells bad, there’s a likelihood of infection in the waters.
Contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you experience your water breaking without contractions, or if there is a sign of meconium.
You might be interested in reading this article Signs Of Labour – 7 Signs You Might Be In Labor.
Statistics length of pregnancy
If you’re keen to geek out on lengths of pregnancy, this survey shows some interesting information.
These results only compare babies that showed up spontaneously (no induction).
On average, the mothers had their subsequent baby 0.07 days earlier than their previous baby.
Fourth baby early or late statistics
For many women, the fourth pregnancy is like riding a bike. After experiencing the ins and outs three times before, both the body and the mind are intimately familiar with the changes pregnancy brings.
The survey above showed the average fourth infant likes to come a little earlier, by at least a day.
Third baby early or late statistics
The survey showed third babies appear to arrive slightly earlier than second babies– but not by much.
Second baby early or late statistics
Infant number two had a minimal statistical value of arriving around the same date as a first child. Anecdotally, most women will say that the second arrived a little earlier than the first.