A normal, healthy full-term pregnancy lasts from 37 to 41 weeks. Babies born after 37 weeks are considered full-term. Babies born before that are considered premature or pre-term. And if a woman is still pregnant at the end of her 41st week, that’s called a post-term pregnancy. That baby is overdue!
He or she is probably very happy in the womb and is in no hurry to come out. A mom-to-be that is 42 weeks pregnant, however, is probably exhausted, achy, frustrated, and anxious as she waits (and waits and waits…) for the baby’s arrival.
Fewer than five percent of babies are actually born on their due date, so it’s normal for babies to come into the world a little earlier or later than expected, and one in ten babies is born late. Of course, it can be frustrating having to handle all of the questions and comments from well-meaning friends and family. “She’s still pregnant?” “She hasn’t had that baby yet?!”
By week 42, 98 percent of babies finally make their appearance. So even though it might seem like an overdue mama has been waiting forever, she’ll be meeting her little one soon enough!
If the doctor hasn’t already come up with a plan for inducing labor by week 42, he or she will likely do so now to make sure that the baby is born healthy. This late in the game, a baby will be the size of a pretty big watermelon; a 42-week fetus can measure about 20.3 inches and weigh 8.1 pounds or more. Sometimes an overdue baby might be too big to deliver vaginally, so a C-section is required. The good news is, at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!
15 What's Taking So Long?
All babies arrive on their own timeline. Some show up early, some show up late. You’re more likely to be overdue if you’re having your first baby, if you’ve had an overdue baby before, or if late arrivals seem to run in the family. Some researchers think that babies hang around longer if their moms are well-nourished, and some pregnancies even seem to last longer in the summer than in the winter. Having a boy? Some people like to think that boys show up later than expected as well.
It’s also possible that your due date was calculated incorrectly, especially if you weren’t 100 percent sure of the first day of your last menstrual period, or if your due date was based on a late ultrasound. And, although it’s rare, but an overdue pregnancy could also be related to problems with the placenta or the baby.
Whatever the cause is, you can’t be pregnant forever! So sit tight… Labor could start any day now!
14 Due Dates Are Just Estimates
Nine months ago, your doctor gave you a due date. Now that the date has come and gone, you’re probably wondering what the deal is. And so is everyone else. Friends and family want to know where that baby is…
Most babies arrive somewhere between weeks 38 and 42 of pregnancy. When babies haven't arrived by week 42, they're considered post-term... or late. One in ten babies is born post-term.
The most important thing to remember is that due dates are just estimates, they’re not set in stone, and sometimes they can get miscalculated. Due date calculations can be off by as much as a week or two, especially if you have irregular periods or if you don’t remember the exact date of your last period before getting pregnant.
Tell everybody to chill out, and try to relax yourself. The baby will come when he or she is good and ready!
13 How Are Due Dates Calculated?
One way to estimate your due date is to figure out the first day of your last menstrual period, and then add 40 weeks to that date. The problem with this method is that some women can’t remember the first day of their last period, or aren’t exactly sure when they got pregnant. It can be difficult to estimate an accurate due date if you recently stopped taking birth control pills, as it can take your cycle awhile to regulate.
Some doctors may require you to have an ultrasound once your pregnancy has been confirmed. This ultrasound, or dating scan, is conducted to establish the gestational age of the pregnancy. It can also give the doctor information such as the number of fetuses and their sizes - the size helps determine the age. The ultrasound can also detect abnormalities of the uterus, such as the presence of uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts. And as early as 6 or 7 weeks, it’s possible to detect the baby’s heartbeat!
12 Are There Risks Once The Due Date Passes?
Just as it’s dangerous for a baby to be born preterm, a late term baby may also have some risks. After 41 weeks of pregnancy, there’s a slightly increased risk to your baby’s health that may be caused by the lowered efficiency of the placenta. In addition, there may be less amniotic fluid, which can affect your baby’s heart rate and compress the umbilical cord during contractions. The longer that babies remain in the womb past their due date, the less room they have, so growth may slow or stop. Post-term babies may also show signs of fetal distress such as a slowed heart rate, and may inhale meconium, the first bowel movement. Post term babies may also have trouble breathing.
Larger babies may increase the risk of needing an assisted vaginal delivery or a C-section as they may experience shoulder dystocia – getting a shoulder stuck behind your pelvic bone during birth. Other delivery complications may include severe vaginal tearing, infection, and increased postpartum bleeding.
11 What Happens To The Mom?
At 42 weeks pregnant, your symptoms are probably going to be the same as what you’ve been feeling for the past several weeks. These may include back aches, pelvic pressure, frequent urination, leg cramps, hemorrhoids, and contractions. These symptoms may all intensify because the baby’s size may put pressure on your body. You may have trouble sleeping because of all of your discomforts, but try your best to put your feet up and rest when you can.
It’s a good idea to let your doctor know if you have any troubling symptoms, such as strange discharge, bleeding, severe abdominal pain, or fever. In addition, keep an eye on your baby; consider doing kick counts and keeping tabs on the baby’s movement in the womb. Although he or she might be running out of room in there, you should still be able to feel movement. If you don’t notice any of your baby’s regular movements, let your doctor know right away!
10 What Happens To The Baby?
When a baby is overdue, they may have some trouble. If the placenta begins to lose functionality, the baby may stop growing. On the other hand, if the placenta is still working just fine, you may end up with a much bigger baby!
Babies that are overdue may start to lose fat from all over their body, and may look a little wrinkled when they finally arrive. (Once the baby starts feeding regularly, they’ll gain weight back!) The baby’s skin may also be dry, cracked, or peeling – but it’s temporary. This is because the protective layer of vernix was shed weeks ago, near your due date. Some babies may produce meconium (baby’s first bowel movement) in the womb, so their skin might have a slight greenish tinge to it – also temporary. Late babies also lose that layer of baby fuzz, lanugo, but they may come out with long finger and toenails and more hair. They may also be more alert upon first meeting them!
9 What Happens To The Placenta?
The placenta is an organ that develops in your uterus during your pregnancy. In most cases, the placenta attaches to the uterus at the top or on the side. The placenta is responsible for providing oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby and removing wastes from your baby’s blood. In addition, the placenta distributes hormones which are vital throughout your pregnancy. These hormones help to maintain the pregnancy, support your metabolism to give you energy, and prepare your body for labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. The placenta also asks as a barrier against germs and infections to keep your baby safe and healthy as he grows and develops.
As your due date comes and goes, however, the placenta can get old. As the placenta ages, it can slow down and not function as well as it should. If the placenta loses functionality, it’s possible that the baby’s growth could slow or even stop.
8 Increased Monitoring And Tests
Once you pass 40 weeks, your doctor will likely begin monitoring the baby more. He or she may check your amniotic fluid level, the baby’s heart rate, and his estimated weight. During those last few weeks or pregnancy, your little one can really pack on some pounds, and if he weighs a lot, you may have trouble pushing during labor. A forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery (or a C-section) may become necessary.
Your doctor may encourage you to count your baby’s kicks, making sure that you feel at least ten movements during a period of an hour or two. Your baby may also be monitored during a nonstress test. You can do this test at your doctor’s office, or you may have to go to the hospital. You’ll wear a belt on your belly that detects the baby’s heart rate. You may also get some last-minute ultrasounds to make sure that your baby is breathing properly, that his heart is beating, and that he’s moving well in the uterus.
7 Playing The Waiting Game
Your regular prenatal care will continue as your due date passes. Your doctor will continue to check your baby’s size, heart rate, position, and movements at your appointments. Your doctor may also suggest a nonstress test or other assessments to make sure everything is okay in there.
Some doctors may prefer to take a wait-and-see approach to see if you go into labor naturally, but depending on how you and the baby are doing, your doctor might suggest inducing labor sometime soon. This is done to avoid delivery complications such as fetal distress or a large baby that may be difficult to deliver. Sometimes it’s better to deliver sooner rather than later.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, your cervix gets soft and begins to dilate. If your cervix is showing these signs of getting ready for labor, then your time is probably coming. But if your doctor decides to kickstart labor via induction, you’ll probably be giving birth really soon!
6 Signs Of Labor
The signs of labor that you’ve been waiting for should be coming any day now! They are:
Loss of the mucus plug, also known as bloody show. You may notice a thick mucus discharge, which can sometimes be pink and tinged with blood. Some women may notice a thick gob of discharge, or for other women, it may come out in smaller pieces. Other women might not even notice it at all. This is a sign that your cervix is getting itself ready for delivery. In other words, labor will start soon. We just don’t know how soon.
Rupturing of the membranes, also known as water breaking. Call your doctor if you feel like you’re slowly leaking fluid, or if your water breaks in a big gush. Though not every woman feels their water break, labor may begin within a few hours once it does.
Regular contractions, also known as FINALLY! You’ve probably felt Braxton Hicks contractions for a while now, but these cramping sensations will be much stronger and more intense. You’ll know they’re the real deal when they get stronger, longer, and start happening at shorter intervals.
5 Will I Have To Be Induced?
Many doctors may want you to consider inducing labor by 41 or 42 weeks. They may even have you schedule an induction date in advance at the hospital, to make sure you have a spot on the calendar. Your doctor will conduct assessments to determine the status of your cervix and the health of your baby to see if you would be an ideal candidate for induction. If the doctor determines that it’s not a good idea for the baby to stay in utero much longer, there are a few different ways a doctor can induce labor, such as:
Stripping or sweeping the membranes. The doctor uses a finger to swipe around the amniotic sac, which releases the hormones that will eventually cause contractions to start.
Breaking your water. The doctor will use a tool that looks like a long plastic crochet hook to break the amniotic sac. The rupturing of the membranes can cause contractions in just a few hours.
Ripening your cervix. The doctor can apply medication to your cervix which will help speed up dilation.
IV medications such as Pitocin. These medications can get contractions going, or can help speed things along if labor is going slowly.
4 Can I Induce Labor Myself?
You may have heard old wives’ tales and stories about ways to jumpstart labor on your own. Friends and family members may be suggesting that you go for a long walk, hop in the car and drive down a bumpy, pothole-ridden rode, have sex, or eat certain foods like pineapple, eggplant, or something spicy! There’s no scientific evidence that any of these methods work, though, so it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before trying any tricks to induce labor.
While many of these methods may be ineffective and even harmless, some of them might actually work… and they might be dangerous. For example, herbal supplements, nipple stimulation, and castor oil are all thought to bring on labor, but that means they might also bring on really intense contractions that could be painful for you and dangerous for the baby. It’s best to keep waiting and watching the clock… or let the doctor handle the induction.
3 Will I Have To Have A C-Section?
Some women may think the idea of scheduling a C-section is a great way to maintain control of what’s happening to your body during labor. It might also sound like a great idea if you’re over being pregnant and just want your baby to be here already! However, an important thing to remember is that it’s major abdominal surgery, and it’s definitely not “an easy way out.” If you have a C-section, you have a longer postpartum healing period than if you had given birth vaginally.
It is thought that if your doctor induces labor that you may end up having a C-section, but a recent Danish study found there is no increased risk of having a C-section if labor is induced during weeks 39-41. However, many doctors may advise you to deliver via a C-section if you are carrying a very large baby, the baby is experiencing fetal distress, or if your labor has stalled.
2 You're In Control
You have the right to decline an induction if you don’t feel comfortable with any medical interventions. Your doctor should talk with you about any risks that exist for you and your baby, but he or she should also respect your wishes. Ultimately, the doctor is looking out for your wellbeing and the health of your baby.
If your pregnancy goes into extra innings, your doctor will probably monitor the baby to measure his or her pulse and the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby. You may also be required to have nonstress testing once or twice a week until labor begins. This alerts the doctor to any signs that the placenta is failing or that the baby is in fetal distress. If that’s the case, you’ll likely be advised to schedule an induction, or if the situation is serious, you may need to prepare for a possible C-section.
1 What To Do While You Wait
Even though it might feel like you’ve been pregnant forever, you're in the homestretch mama! Whether your doctor takes a wait-and-see approach or schedules an induction date, try to relax. As long as your doctor determines that the baby is healthy, it’s okay to wait.
Make good use of the extra time you have on your hands. Make sure the nursery is finished and get your car seat installed if you haven’t already done so. Create your birth announcements so they’re ready to go. Finish up any thank you notes from your baby shower.
Most importantly, use this time to take care of yourself. Sleep, read, go to the movies, or go out on a date with your partner – anything to take your mind off of waiting. Now’s a good time to change your voicemail message to let everybody know that the baby still hasn’t arrived but everything is okay. You might even want to turn off your ringer and let all those annoying calls asking, “Have you had that baby yet?” go to voicemail.