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Why your labour is overdue - and what happens next

Your due date has come and gone, there’s no signs of labour, you’re still pregnant! Here’s what you need to know about going overdue – and how you might help bring on labour…

Posted: 19 August 2010
by Kyrsty Hazell
Overdue? don't worry

From very early pregnancy, your estimated due date (EDD) will have been marked in your calendar. Your baby’s birth is a life-changing day, after all! But when your due date has passed and you’re still pregnant, it can be disappointing and frustrating.

However, just because your pregnancy has gone past your due date doesn’t mean you should panic. Only 4% of mums-to-be give birth on their actual due date, with the majority welcoming their babies up to 10 days after the b-day.

So why does this happen, what do you need to know about going overdue, how does labour start, and will you need to have labour induced?

Why are you overdue?

When working out your estimated due date (EDD), your doctor does this on the idea that your baby was conceived two weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period (LMP). Nobody can truly predict the exact date when the conception took place, but with the average pregnancy lasting 266 days, this will be added to the two weeks to make a total of 280 days (40 weeks).

The only flaw, which may be why many women seem to go overdue, is that not all women have 28-day menstrual cycles, and you could conceive in months that have up to 31 days.

“A normal pregnancy is anything between 38-42 weeks,” says midwife Sue Thompson. “So anything past 42 weeks is classed as overdue. That means many women will go anything up to two weeks over the day they’ve been given as their due date.”

How does the labour process start?

Even though you might think that it’s your baby that kick starts the labour process, it is in fact your body that sends the signals. “Your baby is just sitting there waiting for a green light from you. Labour is actually initiated by a hormone sent from your nervous system to your baby,” explains midwife Sue.

Although you’re in control, you’re also helpless in making the labour-triggering hormone appear! “There is no way of knowing what makes the brain tell the body to start labour. We have to wait for that hormone reaction to trigger things off.”

Is your unborn baby safe in there?

Keep in mind that your due date doesn’t mark the day after which your baby will be in danger. Your baby is safe in the by amniotic fluid (the liquid around your baby) and will continue growing while he’s still in there. So yes, going overdue is likely to increase the birth weight!

Can you help get things moving?

The waiting game can be hard, so instead of sitting around brooding, try some gentle exercise. A walk in the fresh air – or even a spot of sex – can keep your mind occupied and frustrations at bay. Old wives tales swear by certain foods, like a hot curry. However, if the waiting becomes unbearable, your midwife might suggest a stretch and sweep.

What is a stretch and sweep?

Essentially, it’s a cervical examination where the midwife uses her fingers to separate stubborn membranes from the wall of the uterus. It’s painless and can help the labour process along.

Do old wives tales for bringing on labour work?

There’s no solid proof that the age-old tales of inducing labour actually work. But there’s no harm in trying!

Some say that lots of sex can help bring on birth. While the prostaglandins (hormones) in sperm can initiate labour, you’d have to have a lot to make a difference.

Another tale is eating pineapple. Apparently the enzyme in the fruit called bromelain can help soften the cervix, so if you like pineapple, chomp away.

There’s been much debate about whether raspberry leaf tea (not fruit tea) can bring on labour, but there’s no long-term evidence to support this.

Another suggested tip is having your nipples stimulated! This act is thought to encourage the release of the labour hormone oxytocin – although don’t take this too literally as you wouldn’t want to make them sore!

Is your health at risk?

Not at all. If you decide against the stretch and sweep, the midwife will keep an eye on you. If you’ve had a normal and healthy pregnancy up until now, going overdue isn’t a concern.

If you reach the 10-day mark, you will be asked to have some tests. These will involve a heart tracing on your baby using a special monitor attached to your bump and an abdominal scan. This is so the doctors can monitor the amniotic fluid. It will happen twice a week once you’re 10 days overdue.

Will you need to be induced?

The maximum time you’ll be allowed to go overdue is usually 16 days, which is a total of 282 days of pregnancy based on the LMP calculations made by your doctor when you first thought you were pregnant. Some mums-to-be are allowed to go to 42 weeks (that’s 294 days), but you’re likely to be offered an induction before then.

If you’re induced you’ll be given labour-inducing hormones such as artificial oxytocin via a drip or prostaglandin (which is a gel). You’ll be examined after six hours and if your cervix opens enough during this period, your midwife might try an artificial rupture of membranes (ARM), which gently breaks the waters. If all else fails, you’ll be given further doses of oxytocin, or if necessary, a caesarean.

Relax!

The most important – and safe – thing you can do whilst waiting to meet your baby is to relax during your pregnancy. Stay upbeat so that your physical and mental energy is at its best for when you get to the labour you’ve been waiting so long to happen!


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pregnancy, due date, induced, labour, midwife, raspberry leaf tea, pineapple, curry, sex, caesarean, sperm, nipple stimulation, stretch and sweep, birth, artificial rupture membrane, estimated due date, conception, oxytocin, overdue
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