The Almighty “Due Date”

The most important date to me throughout my pregnancy with my first child was, not surprisingly, my due date. I was convinced that my baby would come early – several days early, no less. My mom’s babies came early and therefore mine should too, or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when my due date came and went and I was still pregnant!

My midwife had prepared me for the possibility of going over my due date, or at least she had tried to prepare me for it. No matter how many times she reminded me that it didn’t matter when my mother’s babies had come or that the almighty Due Date was just an approximation, I was still convinced that my baby would be early! Or, at the very least, not late. That is what I thought, at least until after my due date.

As due dates go, my first one was pretty accurate. My daughter was born only two days past my due date. That’s practically right on time! Except that after my first birth, I learned a bit more, and came to realize that the due date doesn’t really mean very much at all which is why it is more accurately referred to as an “estimated due date” instead of an “almighty due date.”

During my pregnancy with my second daughter, I viewed the due date very differently. In the first place, we were basically just guessing about the due date. I didn’t have much of an idea of when I actually got pregnant since I was nursing my older daughter at the time. It was much less of a sure thing. If we went by LMP, my due date was nearly a month earlier than if we went by implantation spotting and uterine size determined by palpation.

When people would ask me when I was due I would tell them, “Oh, anywhere from 8 to 13 weeks from now.” I figured out the number of weeks by including the three weeks before and two weeks after my estimated due date which is the usual window for a baby to be born during. I figured that this way I could avoid having other people thinking of me as “overdue” and I could avoid that thinking for myself as well.

I think that by having a “due date” it’s all too easy to fall into thinking that the baby needs to be born *by* that date – as I felt with my first daughter. I think that women would be better served by thinking of their “due weeks” – the 5 week period of time when it’s most likely their baby will be born. The vast majority of babies are not born on their due dates and that’s completely normal! Babies born during that five week window do not have any extra risks compared to babies who are born on their exact due date. Those five weeks are all considered full-term when labor begins spontaneously during them.

On the other hand, the common practice of artificially inducing labor just because a woman has reached or passed her due date can lead to completely avoidable complications – babies born too soon (since labor begins when the baby is ready to come out), labor that isn’t progressing well enough (since the mother’s body wasn’t ready to have the baby quite yet), and unnecessary c-sections (for labor that isn’t progressing well enough).

An excellent short article about VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean section) that also includes a bit of the history of the origin of estimated due dates can be found here.

The due date should be a guide and a reference point, but it is not an expiration date!

~B.

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