The baby’s due date may be marked with big circle on the calendar. However not every expectant couple may recognize that very few babies actually decide to arrive on that day. The average length of pregnancy can vary from woman to woman. Does this “expected date of arrival” really have that much significance? Should expectant mothers wait for labor to start or have an induction if they go past baby’s due date by a few days?
When is Pregnancy Considered “Late” or Postdates?
A mother is not considered to be “late” (in medical terms) just because she goes past her due date. She might be “overdue” but her pregnancy is not, by medical standards, considered to be “postdates.”
Believe it or not, a postdates pregnancy is defined as “a pregnancy that lasts for more than 42 weeks.” So even though a mother might feel like something is wrong if she has not gone into labor by her due date, her pregnancy is not postdates until after she has past her due date by 2 weeks!
Average Length of Pregnancy – Has it Changed?
Not long ago, researchers discovered that the average length of pregnancy was actually longer than previously thought. The average number of days from fertilization to the mother starting labor was 274. This is eight days longer that the 266 days often used to calculate a baby’s due date.
However according to a 2006 March of Dimes report, the average pregnancy in the US is now 39 weeks. This means that inducing labor or scheduling a cesarean a week before the mother’s due date could result in the baby arriving as much as 15 days earlier than what was considered to be “normal” just a few years ago.
Have mothers’ bodies during pregnancy changed that much in the last few years? Or is the increase in early labor inductions and cesareans changed parents’ and possibly care providers’ perceptions that if the baby comes after 39 weeks, the mother is “late”? Not only is she late, but now the only thing to do is induce labor.
Is an Induction Needed if Mothers Goes Past Her Due Date?
Undoubtedly one of the mother’s own markers for late pregnancy is the amount of discomfort she is in by the time she reaches her baby’s due date. That alone becomes a motivating factor for her to prefer a labor induction rather than waiting for labor to start! Is there a reason for an induction if the mother is only a few days past 40 weeks? Well the answer is, it depends.
Here are potential medical indications that the care provider is often monitoring when the mother goes past her due date:
- Amniotic Fluid Levels – Sometimes a very low level of amniotic fluid can be a medical indication for a labor induction when the mother is “late.”
- Baby’s Heart Rate – A common test if the mother passes her due date is a non-stress test, which can indicate how well the baby is responding to pre-labor Braxton-Hicks contractions or her own movements.
- Mother’s Blood Pressure – If mom’s BP goes up, the provider may have a concern about preventing pre-ecclampsia, so elevated blood pressure could indicate an induction.
- Protein Level in Mother’s Urine – If the mother’s urine test shows elevated protein levels, this is another possible indicator for labor induction, especially if the mother’s blood pressure is also high since they can lead to pre-ecclampsia.
Medical Indication or Preference?
Few expectant mothers realize that not all care providers have the same philosophy when it comes to managing care when mothers are “late.” One care provider might routinely recommend labor inductions prior to the mother’s due date. Another might prefer that their patients wait for labor to start unless there is a medical indication or overlying health issue.
Some mothers might mistakenly believe that if a care provider suggests an induction, there may or may not be a true medical indication for it. They might assume that the care provider would only bring up the issue of induction if the mother actually needed it.
Two reasons a care provider might recommend a labor induction after the mother’s due date include a suspected big baby or the mother lives a distance from the hospital. While there are a few advantages to inducing labor in both of these situations, especially if the mother is past her due date, neither has a true medical need.
What to Ask Your Provider about Going Past Your Due Date
Here are questions to ask your provider if you go past your due date and more information is needed:
- How long can we wait for labor to start before inducing labor?
- Is there a medical indication/reason for this induction?
- What tests will be recommended to assess baby’s well-being after 40 weeks?
- What non-medical/natural methods of inducing labor do you recommend and when?
- What medical methods of inducing labor are recommended and when?
- Do you recommend using the Bishop’s score prior to inducing labor?
- Do I have an increased risk of cesarean if my labor is induced too early?
It is important to remember that being late does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong or will go wrong. Most women give birth between 38 and 42 weeks. Going past your baby’s due date may be exactly what your baby and your body need to do in order to have a successful labor and birth!