3 ways to deal with due date hysteria
Remember that one size doesn’t fit all
A baby’s due at 40 weeks right? That’s how long they say a baby generally takes to grow, till it’s ready to be born. But that’s in a UK tummy. If you are French then it’s 41 weeks. But what if you are English, living in France? Confusing right?
So we’re back in the UK. How has your due date been calculated? Midwives will take the date of your last period and add 280 days, or 40 weeks. You’ll then have an ultrasound scan where another estimate is made, based on the size of the foetus. If the two ‘due dates’ differ by a week or more, they’ll go with the date from the scan.
Most people will focus on their due date… have it written in their diary and etched onto their brain. It’ll be something they’re asked about at least twice a day. As they get bigger, this will rise to at least 10 times a day. Friends will begin texting a week or two before the due date asking if there’s ‘any news’? Lovely well meaning, but totally missing the point, friends. This is when the pressure and stress starts to mount.
THE DUE DATE IS AN ESTIMATE
Now, lets imagine a pregnant woman has reached her ‘due date’. For 4% of pregnant women, this is when their baby is born. For 96%, this is NOT when their baby will be born. In fact, 80% of babies arrive between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after. A recent US study of 125 women found that the length of pregnancy can vary naturally by as much as five weeks. The authors of the study say it’s "Too early to make clinical recommendations" but clinicians may want to "keep the results in mind" when deciding whether to intervene in a pregnancy.
This makes the 40 week due date a much more inaccurate guess than most people imagine.
Yet the ‘due date’ and after is when the pressure increases. Caregivers start talking about sweeps… induction… these words can strike fear into mums-to-be. Paradoxically, it can be all this talk, along with all the advice about how to go into labour naturally, that can lead to induction. Fear and anxiety inhibits your body’s ability to produce oxytocin, the hormone needed for you to go into labour naturally.
TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF
Tell your friends, family and colleagues that you are due in ‘spring’ rather than the 1st April. Ask your caregivers to give you some space. Take the pressure off, enjoy the chance to stretch time and chill out.
If you go over 40 weeks, relax, relax, relax
My first baby (Joseph) was 2 weeks ‘late’ and my second was 1 week ‘late’. I am one of those women who needs longer to cook a baby, as legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin puts it. Joseph ended up being induced, the thing I dreaded most. This makes Joe one of the one in five babies that are induced in the UK.
WHAT NOT TO DO
I wanted Joseph to be born naturally, without the need of induction. I was so worried about him being induced that I spent my days consuming pineapple and curry, walking up and down hills, having reflexology and acupuncture. I also had three sweeps. This is where a midwife separates the separate the membranes of the amniotic sac surrounding your baby from your cervix. I am convinced that all the stuff I did scared Joe into digging in his heels and refusing to come out. Why would he let himself be born into a world where his mum had gone crazy?
WHAT TO DO
For my pregnancy with iris I did the opposite. I got to 40 weeks and refused sweeps. I continued to eat the food I’d been eating all the way through. I spent a lot of time watching films whilst sitting on my birth ball. I went to the park with Joe and sat by the pond. I watched the jellyfish float around in the Horniman museum. I even let the midwives book me into a C-section for 42+1 weeks (which I could do because I’d ended up having a C-section the first time round). I just wanted them to stop asking me about it and I knew I wouldn’t need it.
TO BRING ON LABOUR NATURALLY
Some simple ways to help stimulate oxytocin in your body, the star of the show when it comes to labour…
- Sexual intercourse- Female orgasms stimulate the first uterine contractions and semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which softens the cervix.
- Nipple stimulation - When your nipples are stimulated (about 15 minutes of finger stimulation around the whole nipple area), oxytocin is produced and you help establish your breastmilk supply too.
- Have a bath - Water is soothing and with candles you can create a perfect relaxation bubble. You can add clary sage essential oil to help relax and promote labour.
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want
I told myself I’d go into birth naturally when Iris and my body were ready to get it together and get going. I put up positive affirmations around my home (e.g. baby will come when baby is ready). I had my nest ready with flowers and candles and lovely relaxing pictures all over the place, knowing I wanted her to be born at home.
I went into labour at 41 weeks, after a lovely date with my husband the evening before. I was over the moon, but I wasn’t at all surprised. Because even though Joseph was later, I knew this time would be different. This time I was relaxed… full of oxytocin… feeling ready.
When it comes to going over 42 weeks – I don’t advise couples either way, because everyone is different and it is down to the choice of the individual. Certainly if a couple does go over 42 weeks they (their uterus and the baby) should be regularly monitored. As NHS guidelines put it: "There is a higher risk of stillbirth if you go over 42 weeks pregnant, but not every pregnancy over 42 weeks is affected this way. At the moment there is no way of knowing which babies might be at risk, so induction is offered to all women who don't go into labour by 42 weeks."
What I would say is this. Do the research, speak to your caregivers, and then come from a place of informed decision making. Combining this with helping your mind and body to go into labour naturally, you will know that whatever the outcome, you've done what is best for you and your baby's birth.
 US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Photo by lovely Hypnobirthing Place mum Nadia, (@neonblueninja on Instagram)