While it may be frustrating to be overdue when you're feeling uncomfortable and looking forward to meeting your baby, it is very common for women to go over their due date. In fact nearly half of all babies are born after their due date. Most of these babies will arrive in the two weeks following the due date, but up to10 per cent of babies may not have arrived at the end of 42 weeks. If you go over 42 weeks it is described as prolonged pregnancy, and it's likely that your doctor will recommend that birth is induced.
What happens if I go over my due date?
When you go beyond your due date by a few days nothing will happen at all, as we've said, it's very common for babies to be born a little late and it's no cause for concern. If you go more than 10 days to 2 weeks over your due date your doctors may be a little concerned and more likely to want to consider an induction, intervening to bring on labour. This is because once you go beyond full term, the placenta may start to deteriorate and so provide inadequate oxygen and support for your baby. The risk of stillbirth, while still extremely small, does rise at 42 weeks and again at 43 weeks. There's also a possibility that your baby may grow too large for vaginal delivery, and if this looks likely you may prefer to have an induction rather than risk a planned caesarian at a later stage.
If you reach the end of your 41st week with no sign of your baby arriving then at the next check your doctor will probably double-check your due date is correct, or look for clues indicating it might be off. This involves checking the date of the first day of your last menstrual period, checking whether your cycles are regular, and how long they are, and referring back to your early dating scan. If you were tracking ovulation and are well aware that your official due date doesn't agree with when you ovulated then this is a good time to present your evidence (temperature & fertility sign charts) to your doctor so that s/he can take them into account, it may be that you are not as far along as the doctors think you are.
At the check your doctor or midwife will also examine you to see what the position of the baby is, and may offer an internal examination to see whether your cervix is ripening in preparation for birth. You might be offered a 'membrane sweep' to encourage the start of labour and the topic of induction might be raised for the first time. If an induction is suggested at this stage and you would rather wait for labour to occur naturally, then do ask what the grounds for an induction are to check whether this is just a general policy where you're being cared for, or whether the suggestion is based on the details of your individual case.
If there's reason to believe that you're not as far along as your official dates suggest then you and the doctor might be more inclined to adopt a 'wait and see' policy for longer. If you do decide to wait and see then your pregnancy may be monitored more frequently, perhaps requiring you to go for checks every few days.
Once you are 10 - 14 days past your due date your doctor is more likely to suggest that you consider an induction and will probably be keen to set an induction date with you.
What is the induction rate and do I have to agree to induction if I'm overdue?
About 20% of all births are induced in the UK, but the picture varies greatly from region to region, and even within areas themselves. The policy of when to first suggest an induction is down to your health provider and it's usual for it to be suggested once you've gone beyond 41 weeks. However, you don't have to agree to an induction at whatever stage it is suggested if you don't want one, the final decision is yours.
When discussing the issue with your doctor make sure that you discuss the specifics of your pregnancy in weighing up the arguments for and against, so that you can make a decision based on your own circumstances, and health of your pregnancy.
You may want to wait and see for a little while longer, or you may decide that it would be wise to set a tentative date for induction if you'd prefer not to go beyond a certain time.
Make sure you're aware of the hows and whys of induction as you consider your options.
Either way, labour may start of its own accord at any time, and there are several tricks that you can try to bring on labour naturally.