Is Your Due Date a Fallacy?
A due date is a fallacy. The only significance of due dates is the harm they do to women and babies. Up to 40 weeks of pregnancy, everyone assumes in general that mothers know how to grow babies, and babies know how to grow. We keep an eye on the situation to make sure all is well, but the assumption is that mothers and babies know what they are doing.
I hear many mothers in a KG Hypnobirthing class tell me that ‘My hospital is lovely, and everyone is in favour of natural birth’. As a KG Hypnobirthing teacher who has taught over 2000 women, I have developed an overview of what goes on in different hospitals, and sometimes my heart sinks when I hear a mother say this.
At 40 weeks, all this changes, and suddenly everyone know better than the mother and baby what they ought to be doing, and the woman is subjected to extreme stress from 3 directions.
Creating Stress with a Due Date
She puts herself under stress because ‘the date’ is etched on her mind. It is difficult to tell the average length of a normal pregnancy in our society, as so many babies are induced for ‘post dates’., but it is thought to be between 41 and 41.5 weeks. I have heard it said that 85% of babies arrive after 40 weeks, so that date isn’t even an average. If a baby is, for example, due on 1st May, it is wise to say to yourself ‘first half of May’ every time ‘the date’ comes to mind.
She gets stress from all her friends and relations to whom she has told ‘the date’. On that day, they all ring up; all 20 of them. ‘Are you still there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘No baby yet?’ ‘No’. ‘You must be fed up!’ ‘Well I wasn’t until 20 people called and suggested that I might be. At this point, many women turn their phone to silent and unplug the land line. One woman who was 40 weeks and only 1 day pregnant sent me an email saying: ‘The onslaught (her word) of texts, messages, calls and emails has well and truly begun. I really wish I had listened to your advice and told everyone a different date. When I meet couples at a KG Hypnobirthing class, they will already have told their friends and relations the estimated due date, but it is very easy to change it. All they have to do is tell everyone that they have had another scan and it has been put two weeks later. Everyone believes machines.
The third area of stress comes from their medical caregivers. Emotional pressure is applies to persuade a mother to agree to an induction. ‘Don’t you want to do the best for your baby?’ Well any mother would walk through fire for her baby, and to play on this fact is immoral and unprofessional. I have even heard the phrase reported back to me: ‘Don’t you want your baby to live?’ Three ‘reasons’ are given why she should agree to an induction. The first is that the stillbirth rate increases at 43 weeks over what it was at 40 weeks. This is true, but the increase is tiny. Something in the region of increasing from 0.1% to 0.15%, and nobody knows the cause of this. To make a sensible decision a mother would also need to know the risks of an induction. The second is that the placenta might fail. Ask an experienced midwife how often she has seen this happen due to a longer pregnancy, and it will be almost never. The third is that it might be a big baby. Position of the mother when giving birth and her relaxation are far more important than the size of the baby, and a scan is only about 80% accurate as far as size is concerned, which is the difference between an 8lb and a10lb baby.
Guidelines from NICE
What do the NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines say about induction of labour say? ‘Induction of labour has a large impact on the birth experience of women and their babies and so needs to be clinically justified. It may be less efficient and is usually more painful than spontaneous labour. Epidural analgesia and assisted delivery are more likely to be needed if labour has been induced.’ It is said that a Caesarean, which is major abdominal surgery, is twice as likely after an induced labour, and an assisted delivery, forceps or ventouse, is three times as likely.
The best information on which to make a decision about induction can be found in the book 'Inducing Labour: Making Informed Decisions' Published by AIMS and available in hard copy and electronic format from www.aims.org.uk .
Each of these ‘reasons’ should be covered in a full article of its own, but it is important to remember two things.
- When a woman is stressed, she will produce the hormone adrenaline which is the enemy of the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that stimulates the activity of the uterine muscles in labour, so the more stress she is put under, the less likely she is to go into labour or for labour to progress efficiently.
- It is important to regard those few extra days as a bonus. She has been given a few days when, at least for her first baby, she can do whatever she likes. She can lie-in as long as she likes in the morning. She can read a book whenever she likes. She can go out to a movie or for a meal with her husband or partner at a whim. These are all things that she will not be able to do for many years.
How Was 40 Weeks Calculated for Pregnancy Length?
In England pregnancy is generally assumed to be 40 weeks but this time period is completely arbitrary and is calculated using the Naegele’s Rule. This rule was established by a German obstetrician in the early 1800’s and was not based on any rigorous scientific testing. However research done in the 1990 study by Mittendorf established that a pregnancy in first-time Mums lasted on average eight more days than this 40 week rule.
Inaccuracies occur as it is often difficult to calculate your exact conception dates. Women’s menstrual cycle differ greatly and often vary from month by month.
Many health professionals start the count from the first day of last menstrual period. However this will be a week or two before you actually conceive depending on how long your cycle is. The fertile period in the cycle can also vary by several days. Even if you know the exact date of conception, the length of pregnancy varies, as with everything in nature.
In France the time is taken to be 41 weeks. According to the World Health Organisation, pregnancy is anything from 37 to 42 weeks. If your pregnancy is shorter or longer than this, it can still be a normal pregnancy. As long as you are checked to make sure that you and your baby are healthy, your baby will arrive when it is ready. Be grateful you are not an elephant, they are pregnant for 22 months!
Relax and Enjoy This Time
So welcome these short few days. Treat this time as a bonus, a little holiday. Remember that ‘baby knows best’. It is said that labour is started by the baby when it is ready. This must be the biggest decision of our lives. What does it do to the baby if that decision is taken from it, and it is forced into the world before it is fully developed?
You could say that there is no such thing as a ‘late baby’; only women who have different lengths of pregnancy, and it would be strange if it were otherwise. After all, do the apples on an apple tree all ripen on the same day?
You could also take the view that every baby arrives on its due date. It’s just that they don’t tell us what it is until they get here.