There comes a time in every woman’s pregnancy when the phrase, “When’s your due date?” is enough to make her cringe. If you’re approaching your final weeks and worried you’ll go straight past your estimated delivery date, there’s no need to panic. We’ve laid out all the details on what’s at risk when you go into overtime and what happens next.
How accurate are due dates anyway?
It’s important to remember that estimated due dates are just that – an estimate. Due dates are generally calculated by adding 40 weeks to the first day of the patient’s last period. The trouble there, is that many women might not track their menstrual cycles so closely, so it’s perfectly reasonable to be a few days off right from the start. In any case, the average pregnancy lasts between 37 and 42 weeks, though many practices will induce labor after 41 weeks.
Babies are not considered post-term until a woman has reached 42 weeks of pregnancy. At that point, her doctor or midwife will take action to safeguard the baby’s well-being. Because the placenta may not transfer oxygen and nutrients as readily and easily post-term, overdue babies are at risk for the following:
- Fetal stress
- Slowing growth
- Decrease in amniotic fluid
What to expect
If your pregnancy goes into overtime, your doctor or midwife will monitor you and baby closely to ensure all is well. To make certain none of the risks above is an issue, you’ll see an uptick in prenatal visits. Your practice may want you in the office twice each week to check in on your little one. Here’s what might happen:
- Non-stress test: Your health care team might hook you up to a fetal monitor. This is generally performed in the office and is completely non-invasive. You’ll sit back and relax as a nurse straps a device to your bump to measure baby’s heart rate and rule out fetal stress.
- Ultrasound: Your doctor or midwife will want to make sure baby has ample amniotic fluid. This part’s fun, as it means you get another peek at baby through an ultrasound. The tech will measure the fluid around your baby and check in on fetal movement and breathing.
- Counting kicks: As you approach your due date – and especially as you pass it – you’ll be asked to count kicks to make sure your little one is active. You want to make sure you feel 10 movements in at least two hours.
If the results of any of the above tests show that baby is in distress – or if you go past 42 weeks, your doctor or midwife will start talking induction. One in 4 women are induced, most generally using a IV-administered medication called Pitocin. Once induced, labor kicks into gear in a matter of hours.