Going past your scheduled due date can be stressful for both mother and baby. But is it cause for concern medically? Tennille Aron finds out exactly what passing your delivery due date means for you and your baby.

Whether you are a first-time parent or not, the final few days before a baby’s arrival are always filled with a mixture of emotions. There is the excitement of finally being able to meet your beautiful baby, but there is also the anxiety and stress of making sure that everything is perfect for your little angel’s arrival.

If your baby doesn’t arrive on the due date, it can make this period even more stressful. But gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Corne Brink says going past your delivery due date by a few days is more common than you think.

Why are babies born after their due dates?

“The first and most common reason would be wrong dates,” says Dr Brink. “Your expected date of delivery is usually calculated based on the date of your last menstrual cycle. However, each woman’s menstrual cycle is different and therefore, this calculation is not always accurate, which results in the actual due date of the baby being a few days later or earlier than predicted.”

Apart from this reason, doctors don’t fully understand why some women give birth after their due dates, but they do know that it’s common among first-time moms, mothers giving birth to male babies, obese mothers, older mothers as well as when there is a family history of going past delivery due dates.

When should you worry?

While most women will go into spontaneous labour before 42 weeks, there is a small percentage of women who will carry their child beyond 42 weeks, which is called post-term pregnancy. This occurs in about 0.5% of pregnant women and there are some risks associated with it, says Dr Brink.

What are the dangers of post-term pregnancy?

“The first concern with a post-term pregnancy is that with every extra week in Mom’s tummy, the baby grows bigger and bigger, and this can result in the infant growing too big to support a natural delivery,” says Dr Brink.

Therefore, in most cases of post-term pregnancy, a medical intervention such as a Caesarean section will have to be performed to safely deliver the baby and this can come along with its own set of risks.

Dr Brink adds that post-term pregnancies may also run the risk of the baby outgrowing the placenta, leaving it unable to perform its key function of nourishing the growing infant. This can impact negatively on the growth of the foetus and result in the birth of a very small baby with a thin body because of the lack of sufficient nourishment.

Post-term babies can also be born with a series of organ problems and in some cases, have been found to be more prone to seizures and cerebral palsy, and the risk of foetal death also increases rapidly after 42 weeks.

Babies who are born over 42 weeks may also pose health risks to the mother, including vaginal tearing, infection as well as post-partum bleeding.

What to expect if you go past your due date

As you reach the 38-week mark of your pregnancy, your midwife or doctor should begin to monitor you and your baby more closely, scheduling weekly visits. Due to the increased health risks of post-term babies, Brink recommends that it is best to deliver your baby by 41 weeks and four days at the latest.

If labour does not begin spontaneously by 41 weeks, most clinicians will advise that it be induced. Inducing labour involves a medical professional starting the process through artificial means, including:

A membrane sweep or a stretch and sweep: during this process, a medical professional such as a doctor or midwife will examine the pregnant woman’s cervix by inserting two fingers into her vagina. The cervix is then slowly stretched open, and the membranes of the amniotic sac are loosened from the sidewall of the uterus to try and stimulate labour.

Medication: there are specific medications that can be given to pregnant women to induce labour, such as Pitocin, which is a form of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a crucial role in the child birthing process.

The option to induce labour depends on three factors, namely the health of the baby, the health of the mother and the status of the cervix. If both mother and baby are in good health and the cervix has been prepared for labour, i.e. it is soft, dilated and thinning, then a doctor will recommend induction. However, if either mother or baby are under any amount of stress, then a Caesarean section might be the safer delivery option. Your medical caregiver will be able to better advise you in the moment, based on your health and the health of the baby.

While there is no way to predict whether you will go past your due date or not, it is important to know what your options are if you do, so that you can make a decision that is best for you and your baby. Just remember that even though you might have to wait a few extra days to finally meet your little one, it will be worth the wait.

Fact or fiction? 

There are many popular beliefs that people hold around natural ways to induce labour. We look at some of the more common ones and give you facts.

Spicy foods
Some people believe that spicy food can stimulate contractions in a pregnant woman and promote labour.

Fact or fiction? FICTION.
There is no scientific evidence to support this.

Sex
Sex was how you got into the situation, and there are some who believe that this can also help to kick-start labour. During sex, the hormone prostaglandin is released, and this hormone is thought to soften the cervix.

Fact or fiction? FICTION.
Again, there is no evidence to support this theory.

Exercise
While exercising has not been proven to induce labour, some believe that it can play a role in getting the baby into the right birthing position.

Fact or fiction? FICTION.
There are many exercises that can be harmful during pregnancy, so a healthcare professional should be consulted before attempting any exercise, especially when you are nearing term.

Castor Oil
Previous generations believed castor oil was something of a cure-all – including for pregnant women past their due date.

Fact or fiction? FICTION.
In fact, taking castor oil when you are pregnant could cause nausea and diarrhoea, which in turn can lead to dehydration.

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