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The Due Date is NOT The "Best Before" Date

By KateTietje |

My due date is NOT the 'best before' date! Baby comes when baby comes.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve had a major baby boom among my friends.  I know, it’s common — people in their mid-20s to early 30s frequently have babies!  We’ve had ‘waves’ of babies, actually, with many of us delivering our third sometime this year, and several more having their second.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the majority of these women were induced for labor.  And some of them definitely needed it, for various medical reasons.  But the most common reason for induction?  Reaching or quickly approaching their due date. 

It is so important to remember: the due date is not a ‘best-before’ date!

Yes, I understand that some women need to be induced for medical reasons.  And yes, I know that some simply prefer to be induced for their own reasons.  The problem, however, is that a lot of doctors freak women out and make them think that pregnancy that goes beyond 40 weeks isn’t normal or healthy (even if there are no signs of complications) and so they ‘require’ an induction, just for reaching their due date!

Normal pregnancies are anywhere from 37 to 42 weeks.  There are stories of women having healthy babies at 36 weeks…and as long as 52 weeks!  Granted, carrying a pregnancy longer than 42 weeks is incredibly rare, but it does happen.  These babies are usually born healthy, as long as the mom and baby aren’t showing any signs of distress.  People are so individual, and the length of ‘required’ gestation varies widely, too. 

Some babies I read about were born (to a particular mom; there were four or five babies over time) usually at 44 – 46 weeks.  And upon examining them as newborns, they appeared to be roughly the same as an average 39-week baby.  None exceeded 8 lbs.  Can you imagine what would have happened if they’d been induced at 39 or even 42 weeks?  They would have been premature, even though they had reached the “alloted” time!

Doctors are finding more and more that babies born early — even what they call ‘late premature,’ from 35 to 39 weeks — are having more trouble than babies born past 39 weeks.  Even babies born at 37 or 38 weeks are at increased risk of learning disabilities and other complications!  Now, some babies are naturally born at this time and that’s fine.  But fewer would be if they weren’t induced.

It’s also true that up to half of all pregnancies each year aren’t planned.  That means some women may not find out until they are 7 or 8 weeks along — maybe even further.  Their due dates, therefore, are just estimates based on last menstrual period (if they remember!) and possibly early ultrasound dating.  Not all women have early ultrasounds though; some only have one at 20 weeks.  At that point dates are less accurate.  The due date could easily be off by a couple of weeks, and those weeks can really matter at the end of pregnancy.

The end of pregnancy is uncomfortable.  I know — I’m 31 weeks now and already kind of uncomfortable!  But pregnancy is just temporary.  In a couple months my baby will be here and then it won’t matter how I felt for those last several weeks.  I know that everyday can seem like endless agony sometimes.  I still remember the last 3 or 4 days I was pregnant with my son and how crazy I felt, in pre-labor the whole time.  The end of pregnancy does funny things to your mind, and once you know you’re in the “safe” zone, you just want that baby out.  I know.

But, barring actual medical issues (or, if you must, personal preference), don’t rush that baby anywhere!  Relax, wait.  Your baby will come when s/he is ready.  If anything started to go wrong — such as, if you truly had low fluid or your placenta was deteriorating — then it’s likely your body would go into labor on its own anyway.  Your body, in the vast majority of cases, will not hold onto your baby if it is not able to care for it anymore!

Trust your body.  Trust your baby.  The ‘average’ baby would be born at 41 weeks, if left alone — so that should tell us something about due dates!  Pregnancy will end, and everything will be fine.  (As always, if something doesn’t seem right — call your doctor!)

What do you think?  Are women pushed into unnecessary inductions because the due date is seen as the ‘best before’ date?

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About KateTietje

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KateTietje

Kate Tietje is a food blogger who focuses on natural food and cooking. In addition to Modern Alternative Mama, she has contributed her writing to the Parenting and Pregnancy channels on Babble.

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0 thoughts on “The Due Date is NOT The "Best Before" Date

  1. Emily says:

    You are absolutely right that length of pregnancy is person specific. I read somewhere that a pregnancy is actually the length of 9 menstrual cycles for THAT woman. SO women that have short 22 day cycles will have their child earlier than a woman that has a 29 or 30 day cycle. It is all so magical really

  2. Maude says:

    My OB told me induction was not an option before at least 41 weeks + 5 days (unless something went wrong, of course), and i was glad to hear it : he believes the due date is NOT a “best before” date! Here in Quebec (canadian province), it’s common to let pregnancies go up to 42 weeks before inducing.

  3. Amy says:

    Interesting to read this article, thanks! I have recently been doing some extensive reading on the Fertility Awareness Method of contraception/conception and had found an interesting fact regarding the estimation of due dates- the calendar most doctors use for estimating due dates is based on the (false) premise that women have a 28 day cycle, and so calculate accordingly from that. If you track your cycle using Sympto-thermal methods, many woman may find that their cycle is much longer, and consequently their due date, calculated by their last period could be completely off! Women who track their cycle would be much more easily able to estimate their due date, based on their OWN cycle length, and not that of a generic, often incorrect cycle calendar.
    Interesting, huh?!

  4. Izzle says:

    In my country, once you are past your due date, oh they love to induce you. That is one of the reasons why I am going to a Birth Centre and not the Hospital. I believe my baby will come when my baby is ready to come and when that time arrives I will get all the help I need.

  5. Lauren says:

    Emily, if you’re right (and if I did the math right) I’ll be delivering at 29-31 weeks (my cycle varying from 23-24 days), and I’m 29 weeks tomorrow. I really hope you’re not right! I’m not ready!

  6. Jen says:

    In my part of the country, they don’t induce you before 42 weeks. However, they have determined that after 42 weeks, the risks of waiting outweigh the benefits. It would be interesting to have a doctor’s perspective on these issues! I haven’t investigated this myself, and certainly my grandmother had a baby 3 weeks “late” but I wonder why the doctors here pretty universally say this. Curious.

  7. Maude says:

    If that’s true, my baby should come around the 17th… and i’m due the 8th. I’ll let you know (but quite frankly, i hope she’ll be ready sooner!) ;)

  8. Lena says:

    Yes its really hard to go past your due date, and patiently wait. But I dont think there was a single pregnant lady out in the past, who did not deliver her baby at the right time, when baby is ready- he will come, induction only brings unnessarry problems, and complications. Most women cant handle the induction, baby goes into distress and here comes a c-section. A sad fact of life.

  9. Amanda says:

    I was induced the day before my due date because I began to have blood pressure and kidney issues. After going through a pitocin-induced labor, I do not know why anyone would choose to go through that experience.

  10. jodie says:

    When a friend of mine delivered her twins at 33 weeks, they had to stay in the hospital for a while (obviously). She got to know the staff in the NICU, and they told her they’ve seen many stillborn babies delivered well after their due date. For that reason, they do not recommend going too far past your due date. This happened to a mother when my friend was in the hospital, and happened to an acquaintance of mine. Too risky for me. I’ll take induction and risk the possibility of a c-section, thankyouverymuch!

  11. hannah says:

    I am 40 weeks tomorrow (first time) and have been dealing with irrational fears that my body won’t know what it’s doing, and that induction will be the only route and a c-section likely too. And then there’s the feeling like I’ll be pregnant FOREVER and never get to see or hold my little boy. I have been encouraged by the article and comments to just keep being patient, keep monitoring as usual, and relax. I’m using a birth center with midwives I trust, they’re not going to induce me unnecessarily. I have a long cycle anyways, i think the hardest part of waiting is listening/watching everyone ELSE be impatient and making bets about delivery dates…

  12. Mum of 3 says:

    My first daughter was 42 + 6 days late. I was planning a homebirth in Australia. Standard practice was to have an ultrasound 10 days overdue to see if amniotic fluid levels are ok and baby being fine. (Side note: I have read amniotic fluid can be increased/decreased depending on mum’s hydration levels). After the ultrasound the obstetrician at the hospital put the hard word on me about getting induced. He talked about the HANNAH study which states that its better to be induced because you have less complications than leaving it to nature. I asked him if I could have a homebirth if I was induced and he said no, so I said I leave it up to baby to determine when to come out.

    I searched the internet about the Hannah study and lo and behold, the study was disproven and it was better that mum didn’t get induced. They have less complications. My midwife came and monitoried baby’s heart rate every 2nd day. [Side note: I did have long periods before conceiving and ultrasound said I have another 5 days to go]

    I only started to feel fed up with pregnancy after 41 weeks. It was VERY annoying having people ring up and saying “have you had the baby yet?” We kept saying we would ring with the news.

    My baby came out after two days of labour at 4.1kg (just over 9lbs). She had the cord around her neck and was born blue. Midwife gave her oxygen. The placenta had not deteriorated, the midwife said it looked very healthy. The good thing about waiting is the baby ends up having a bigger stomach. My daughter wasn’t constantly feeding every 2 hours, it was more 4 – 8 hours.

    I have heard of a study where taking fish oil tablets delays mums that go into early labour normally. I was taking fish oil tablets all through and only read the study when I was pregnant with my 2nd. I stopped taking the fish oil tablets at 39w+2 days and she came out 1 day overdue.

  13. KateTietje says:

    Mum of 3,

    It’s interesting what you say about fish oil. I’ve been taking cod liver oil throughout this pregnancy and I am convinced this baby will be late. My first two were early. I have also read that too much CLO in the last weeks of pregnancy can increase the risk of hemorrhage, so you want to stop taking it close to your due date. I am not quite sure what it is about this that causes babies to be late — but it seems to. Increased nutrition keeping babies in longer because the body can support them? I don’t know.

  14. Erin says:

    1. Can you cite your research in some way, shape or form please. Where are you getting this information that you are stating as fact…like this one “Doctors are finding more and more that babies born early — even what they call ‘late premature,’ from 35 to 39 weeks — are having more trouble than babies born past 39 weeks. Even babies born at 37 or 38 weeks are at increased risk of learning disabilities and other complications! Now, some babies are naturally born at this time and that’s fine. But fewer would be if they weren’t induced.” Seems like a very bold statement. Also, I’ve read quite a bit myself about going too long (past 42/43 weeks) and the potential medical complications of this.

    2. Who are these Dr.’s you see that you are constantly referencing. I’ve had two babies now, seen many OB’s and Family Practitioners, all of which have been amazing and would never be proponents of induction before a due date unless there was some major medical concern. I have never had any of the Dr. related experiences you speak so harshly and so generally about.

  15. KateTietje says:

    Erin,

    Here are some links:
    http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=145037
    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/27/news/la-heb-birth-20100727
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1285105/Babies-born-week-early-risk-health-problems.html

    Those should cover what I mentioned in the piece.

    As for the doctors, most of the people I know “in real life” have had these experiences. More of my friends have been induced than not, usually at or slightly before their due dates, even when there was not a medical reason. We live in a major city with major teaching hospitals and that may influence this. I’m sure there are areas and doctors where this is not true.

  16. J says:

    “Cotzias et al calculated the risk of stillbirth in ongoing pregnancies for each gestational age from 35-43 weeks.[17] The risk of stillbirth was 1 in 926 ongoing pregnancies at 40 weeks’ gestation, 1 in 826 at 41 weeks, 1 in 769 at 42 weeks, and 1 in 633 at 43 weeks. Uteroplacental insufficiency, asphyxia (with and without meconium), intrauterine infection, and anencephaly all contribute to excess perinatal deaths, although postterm anencephaly is essentially nonexistent with modern obstetrical care”

    “Approximately 20% of postterm fetuses have fetal dysmaturity (postmaturity) syndrome, which describes infants with characteristics of chronic intrauterine growth restriction from uteroplacental insufficiency.[38] These pregnancies are at increased risk of umbilical cord compression from oligohydramnios, nonreassuring fetal antepartum or intrapartum assessment, intrauterine passage of meconium, and short-term neonatal complications (such as hypoglycemia, seizures, and respiratory insufficiency).”

    Source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/261369-overview

    The above quotes are from the article that I posted a link to.

    Also I don’t understand your reasoning behind this statement. “Some babies I read about were born (to a particular mom; there were four or five babies over time) usually at 44 – 46 weeks. And upon examining them as newborns, they appeared to be roughly the same as an average 39-week baby. None exceeded 8 lbs. Can you imagine what would have happened if they’d been induced at 39 or even 42 weeks? They would have been premature, even though they had reached the “alloted” time!” Can you explain this a little more? How would they have been premature? Are you making this statement based on the infants size?

  17. Carla says:

    Well i have been induced with both my boys, the first one was 11 days after my due date and he was good and healthy weighing in at 8.5lbs and the second one was the day before my due date because he had stopped moving and we wanted him out and he was good and healthy weighing in at 8.9lbs and i think if the doctor says its ok for you to be induced then ok but no sooner then 39 weeks because i was told they wouldnt induced me before 41weeks and both me and baby were ready but was still told no. So i dont mind inductions and im sorry but leaving a baby anywhere over 42 weeks is just crazy.

  18. valerie says:

    I was induced at 39 weeks. After morning sickness that rocked my world the entire pregnancy, nearly collapsing from how much I was throwing up, I chose to be induced. My Dr, who is one of the best in our large city, wouldn’t have allowed it if it were not safe for me or baby. I labored for 8 hours, had an all natural birth & I think its ridiculous to judge anyone for choosing to be induced. What is that old saying? Its my body, my choice…
    My little girl is healthy & whip smart. She is small, but so are her father and I. I’m so sorry not everyone can have an 8lb baby. 6.5 isn’t a bad weight though.

  19. Jeni says:

    My daughter was induced because the dr decided that I had my dates wrong and I was out by 2 weeks. They went by an ultrasound to work out gestation. I knew the DAY my daughter was conceived as my partner and I we not living together.
    She was 4.2kg when she was born, which explained why ultrasound assessment said she was further along than she was.
    I am grateful for an induction because I BUT babies have been born without inducement since the beginning of mankind and will continue to do so. If you dont need to mess with nature you shouldn’t.
    An easier birth or a smaller baby isnt a valid reason to play with the life of a little person

  20. Sarah says:

    I know I’m late the the party here, but I feel the need to mention that fetal mortality increases after 40 weeks and dramatically at the 41-42 week mark. Sure, it was probably safe for your baby or your friend’s baby or your sister’s baby. But the statistics show that more babies die if we wait it out too long. I could link to the peer-reviewed articles from medical journals but they are on my phone and I’m too tech-illiterate to figure out how to get them. They were forwarded from my pediatrician friend. I know we all want what’s best for our babies- but no intervention doesn’t always mean best outcome for babies. There’s a reason our infant mortality is lower than it was a few centuries ago.

  21. NY Phoenix says:

    I think it depends on the doc and baby. My firstborn was 9 1/2 pounds, estimated at 12 pounds and was 2 days past the modified due date (born on his original due date via c-section… 4 days of early labor and he wasn’t coming down). Second (and youngest) was born at 41 weeks…. at 8 1/2 pounds. That was during the summer, heatwave, and my bp kept going up… failed vbac (he flipped footling breech after 12 hours of labor and there’s 2 years, 2 months between my minions)… I think had my OB not gone along with my birth plan the second time around (basically was a let things progress normally without medical intervention unless there was an emergency, at which point control was handed over to the OB to do what was medically necessary) then I’d have switched to a midwife.

  22. Leyla says:

    the thing that most people forget is that its called an ESTIMATED due date. it’s also based on when your last period started which includes 2 weeks that you are NOT pregnant and couldn’t have been pregnant scientifically. so 42 weeks is actually 40 weeks baby gestation…..i hate that everything has to be timed ny someone else’s convenience and not when baby is ready.

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