What happens when you’re overdue?

Past your due date and still no baby? Our midwife explains what happens if you’re overdue

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B-day… or is it?

The normal length of a pregnancy is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks and your estimated date of delivery (EDD) is just that – an estimation. Your EDD is worked out as 280 days from the first day of your last period, but not everyone has a 28-day menstrual cycle or ovulates on the same day, so try not to put too much emphasis on your due date.

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A few days later

Your midwife might suggest an internal examination called a ‘stretch and sweep’ to kick-start your labour. This involves her popping a finger just inside your cervix and making a sweeping movement to separate the membranes (the bag holding the water). It can be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s worth trying as it increases the chances of labour within 48 hours.

10 days overdue

If your baby doesn’t seem to be in a rush to make an appearance, your midwife will probably suggest an induction. This is usually offered when you’re 10 to 12 days overdue, as induction can take a few days. Your midwife will make an appointment for the induction. But remember, 96 per cent of women go into labour by 42 weeks without any intervention.

Induction day

Your midwife will do a vaginal examination. If your cervix is already open, she might break your waters by gently sliding a plastic amnihook (a bit like a crochet hook) into your vagina and ‘popping’ the balloon of waters. If this doesn’t get things going, you’ll be advised to have a syntocinon drip, an artificial form of the labour hormone oxytocin, and your baby’s heart rate will be closely monitored.

Hormone help

If your cervix isn’t open, you’ll have a pessary, tablet or gel containing prostaglandin – a hormone-like substance also found in sperm – popped into your vagina to trigger contractions. A tablet or gel will be reapplied every six hours, while a pessary releases prostaglandin slowly over 24 hours, so you might be able to go home and come back when your contractions start.

Pain relief

Because you don’t get the same build up as a normal labour, things can get intense more quickly, so it’s wise to find out what pain relief is on offer. You’ll need to be in a hospital, rather than at home or in a midwife-led unit, but you might still be able to use a birthing pool for pain relief depending on which method of induction you’re having. Speak to your midwife about your options.

Still not budging?

Induction doesn’t always work, so you could end up with a caesarean if your cervix doesn’t dilate or uterus doesn’t contract after the hormone treatment. It’s your right to refuse both an induction and a c-section, but the evidence shows that babies born after 42 weeks are more prone to health problems so it makes sense to follow your doctor or midwife’s advice.

Natural ways to start labour:

There’s no firm evidence, but you might want to try…

  • Having sex. Prostaglandin found in sperm can prepare the cervix for labour and stimulate contractions.
  • Nipple stimulation. The hormone oxytocin or ‘love hormone’ is produced when you’re aroused and makes the uterus contract.
  • Drinking a cup of raspberry leaf tea. From 34 weeks this can help prepare the cervix for labour.
  • Eating fresh pineapple. This fruit contains an enzyme that can help to soften the cervix.
  • Going for a walk. Walking encourages your baby to sit low in your pelvis and puts more pressure on the cervix.

Mums’ stories

“I was 12 days late and due for induction when the midwife realised I was already in labour. Three hours later Isla was born.”

Laura McCaskie, 27, from Staffordshire, mum to Isla, 20 months, and Samuel, 10 weeks

“I had a pessary then a syntocinon drip before my baby was born by assisted delivery 16 days late. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.”

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Kathryn Knight, 29, from Glasgow, mum to Clara, 8 months

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