What happens once you’re overdue

Reached your due date but no hint of a contraction? Going overdue can be frustrating and confusing. But we’re here to help…

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  • You’ve had the day ringed on the calendar and in your diary for nine long months. So it can be pretty disappointing when you open your eyes on your due date, there’s a flutter of expectation – but nothing else. However, you’re not alone – only 4% of women actually give birth on their due date. Anything beyond 42 weeks is known as a prolonged pregnancy. But the number of women who stay pregnant that long is also only around 4% “It’s most common for women to give birth either a few days earlier or a few days later,” adds Sue Thompson, midwife at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital. So you shouldn’t have to play the waiting game for too long.

  • Why am I overdue?

    Calculating due dates isn’t an exact science, as nobody truly knows the moment you conceived. The calculation for your estimated due date (EDD) is based on the idea that conception takes place two weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period (LMP). As pregnancy lasts around 266 days, this is added to the two weeks to make a total of 280 days, or 40 weeks, from the first day of your LMP. The flaw in calculating an EDD is that not all women have 28-day menstrual cycles, and you could conceive in months consisting of up to 31 days.

    “A normal pregnancy is anything from between 38 and 42 weeks,” says Sue. “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 labour start?

     “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 the baby,” explains Sue. “Once the hormone kicks things off, that’ll bring on the first contractions – irregular at first, becoming quicker and more frequent. But while we understand how it happens, there’s no way of knowing what makes the brain tell the body to start labour, so we can’t predict it. Otherwise we’d be able to plan things perfectly! Instead, we have to wait for that hormone reaction to trigger things off.”

  • Is my baby safe in there?

    The first thing to remember is that b-day doesn’t mark a day in the calendar after which your baby would be in danger. He’s safe in the amniotic fluid (the liquid around the baby) and will continue growing while he’s still in there. So yes, going overdue is likely to increase the birth weight!

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  • Can I help get things moving?

    Playing the waiting game is hard, but going into labour by yourself is by far the best option if you can bear to hang on. However, if you really don’t want to sit around aimlessly, as soon as you’re past your EDD you’re entitled to ask your midwife for a stretch and sweep. In fact, she’ll probably suggest it herself. You can have that any day after the due date, and your midwife can do it at home. Essentially, it’s a cervical examination where the midwife uses her fingers to separate the membranes a little from the wall of the uterus. “It’s still considered spontaneous labour if you then go into labour after a stretch and sweep,” says Sue.

    You can, of course, also try some tricks of your own, like certain foods or activities. Many mums swear by a hot curry, a bit of gentle exercise – or even a spot of sex – to get things moving.

  • Is my health at risk?

    Not at all. If you decide against a stretch and sweep, your midwife and her team will keep an eye on you to make sure things are still ok, which they usually will be. “With a healthy mum who’s had a normal pregnancy with no bleeding etc., we’re happy for her to go overdue,” says Sue. “At around 10 days, we’ll get a mum to come in for tests to check that everything is ok.”

    That means heart tracing on the baby using a special monitor attached to your bump, and also an abdominal scan. “This allows us to check the amniotic fluid,” says Sue. That’ll happen twice a week once you’re 10 days overdue (so it’s unlikely to be many times).

  • Will I need to be induced?

    The maximum you’ll be allowed to go overdue is usually 16 days. That’s up to a total of 282 days of pregnancy based on the LMP calculation your doctor made way back when you first thought you were pregnant. Some women are allowed to go to 42 weeks – that’s a total of 294 days – but you’re likely to be offered an induction before then.

    Induction involves being given labour-inducing hormones, such as oxytocin, via a drip, or prostaglandin, which is put inside you, in gel form, using a pessary. You’ll be re-examined after six hours. If your cervix opens enough, your midwife might try an ARM, or artificial rupture of membranes, in which the waters are gently broken with a small hook. If none of this works, you’ll be offered another dose of prostaglandin or oxytocin, or finally, a caesarean.

  • Don’t worry!

    Whatever works for you in the end, try and stay upbeat. You need your physical and mental energy to get through the labour you’ve waited so patiently for. And the most important thing isn’t how he arrives, but that you’re both safe and well and ready to make some new exciting plans for that calendar.

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  • Tips you can try if you’re overdue…

    Eating curry


    Curries make you go to the loo, and the muscular waves of your bowel opening can make your uterus start contracting. But watch out, as too much curry could lead to a runny tum and a sore bum!


    Sex


    The prostaglandins (special hormones) in sperm can initiate labour, but you would need to have a lot to make any difference. Still, there’s no harm in having sex. Even if you’re at full term, the penis can’t damage the baby or cervix.


    Pineapple


    There’s been much debate about whether an enzyme in pineapple called bromelain can help soften the cervix.  However, as one pineapple only contains a smidgen of bromelain, you’d need to eat a whole heap of them to see any possible effect. 
It wouldn’t hurt to have some for pud, though.


    Raspberry leaf tea


    The jury’s out on whether raspberry leaf tea (NOT raspberry fruit tea) can help bring on labour – there’s no evidence to say it will. But it’s thought that it could reduce the length of the second stage once you are in labour.


    Stimulating your nipples


    It’s thought that stimulating your nipples will encourage the release of oxytocin, the hormone released during labour and when you breastfeed. Go easy though, you don’t want them rubbed raw – you might need them later!


    Did you know…


    Women in Oman drink frankincense water to help bring labour on. It’s not scientifically proven, but you could try a few drops in an oil burner to scent the room!

  • Mums’ stories

    “ Nothing worked”


    “I tried acupuncture, brisk walking, spicy food and raspberry leaf tea, but nothing worked and I ended up having a c-section. It turned out that I had a form of pre-eclampsia, which meant I should have had a c-section two weeks before Isabella was born, so I’m glad I didn’t manage to bring on a natural birth.”

    Janine Clements, 37, from London, mum to Isabella, 2 months


    “We drove over speed bumps!”


    “I was two weeks overdue and we tried everything to bring on labour, my partner even drove me over speed bumps. Finally, I went to hospital to be induced, but on arriving labour started naturally, which was a relief!”


    Louise Plunkett, 31, from Kingston Upon Thames, mum to Theo, 6 months


    “She took 15 days to be delivered”


    “At seven days overdue I had a stretch and sweep, then got booked in for an induction. A prostaglandin pessary started labour, but it was slow so they broke my waters. Emily was born, 15 days late, by c-section, having got very stuck – which wasn’t surprising for 9lbs 8oz!”


    Kate Hope, 32, from Northamptonshire, mum to Emily, 9 months


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