You may be surprised to learn that you due date, otherwise called your “estimated date of delivery” (EDD) is rarely accurate.
EDDs very much depend on the certainty of the last menstrual period, and/or when the first ultrasound is performed. Still, even when these two things are relatively certain, it’s hard to know when your body will begin to labor. Some women will begin labor prior to their EDD and some will start after it. This typically is not a problem if there are no other concerns with the pregnancy.
Your pregnancy will be considered “postdate” if it reaches beyond 42 weeks, or 294 days, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). What you need to know, however, is that multiple studies in the last 10 years show increased risks for you and your baby in continuing your pregnancy beyond 41 weeks.
Though many of these studies have been criticized for their methods and few have reached statistical significance, some providers are hesitant to wait for labor to begin on its own in anticipation of these potential risks.
If you go beyond your due date, your healthcare provider may begin to monitor you and your baby more frequently while you wait for labor to begin. Monitoring usually includes weekly prenatal visits, and twice weekly fetal monitoring that includes some combination of ultrasound and tracing the baby’s heart rate on the same monitor that is used during labor.
During ultrasound, your baby’s movements, tone and breathing are monitored and a measurement of amniotic fluid is assessed. These measurements can be reassuring that your baby is doing well and that it’s safe for you to await spontaneous labor.
If any of the assessments are abnormal, your healthcare provider will begin to weigh the risks of continuing the pregnancy to those of inducing labor.
If it’s determined that continuing your pregnancy is not safe for you, for the baby, or both, then your healthcare provider may suggest inducing your labor to birth your baby. Inductions occur using a variety of methods including medications to encourage cervical changes and Pitocin to invoke contractions.
Whether your care provider increases your monitoring or suggests an induction, both methods are currently acceptable ways to make sure you continue a safe and healthy pregnancy. As you progress through your pregnancy, ask your healthcare provider what to expect if you pass your due date, particularly if you were uncertain as to the date on your last period or if you want to birth your baby via natural childbirth.
Janelle Green, RN, BSN, is a master’s-level student in the nurse-midwifery program at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. She is an expert advisor to Health4Mom.org and Healthy Mom & Baby magazine.