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“When I found out I was pregnant, I took my estimated due date and added two weeks to it. It was much more realistic”. A midwife I was apprenticing with spoke these words at a client’s prenatal appointment and we agreed that 40 weeks wasn’t a one-size-fits-all gestation expectation.
Standard Gestation Length
In fact, what mainstream medicine considers a standard gestation period may not be so normal after all.
Holistic Midwifery, Anne Frye’s essential midwifery text, explains why going past 40 weeks is safe, and may in fact be what is normal for humans.
“In a well-nourished woman who salts to taste and drinks to thirst pregnancy usually proceeds to term and often 1 to 2 weeks past the 40 week mark. In fact, 42 weeks may be the normal gestation for humans.” Holistic Midwifery Volume 1: Care During Pregnancy
Unfortunately, many women end up being induced by the 41st week, out of fear that the baby will be harmed.
Why Is There So Much Fear Surrounding A “Past-Due” Baby?
In the extreme post-mature case, babies can be born with loose skin, indicating weight loss. Meconium staining can be present and the placenta may show signs of inadequate blood supply. All of these could be harmful to a new baby.
But there is a difference between post dates and post maturity. Postdates pregnancy is a pregnancy that goes past the 42nd week. Going postdates does not automatically indicate a post mature baby.
In fact, it can be considered a “normal” pregnancy for a healthy, well-nourished mother and can happen for a variety of reasons:
1. Miscalculated Dates
Many women keep meticulous track of their monthly cycles, knowing exactly when they ovulate and when they started their last period. Some of us, however, intend to do so, but … don’t. Or we forget. Or we write it down and lose the paper. Often, guessing at the date results in a due date that’s right in the ballpark. But sometimes, especially in the case of someone who has irregular cycles, the estimated date is off by more than a week.
2. Longer Cycles
This goes hand-in-hand with miscalculated dates. Dates are calculated on the average length of a monthly cycle, which is 28 days. However, some women have longer (or shorter) cycles. If this wasn’t taken into account when the due date was calculated, it will be inaccurate.
3. Baby Isn’t Ready
Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have discovered that the baby’s lungs actually trigger birth. Surfactant, a protein found in the lungs that is essential for normal breathing outside the womb, is released and triggers the uterus through a cascade of chemical events when the baby is ready to be born. It’s not something to be rushed.
If you’re feeling apprehensive about giving birth or fearful about possible negative outcomes, you could be keeping yourself pregnant. Psychology plays a huge role in birth and if you are approaching your due date with fear, your body may be protecting you by not triggering labor. If you feel this may be the case, talk to someone about what you’re feeling. Often, discussing it with someone can allay those fears and put you at peace.
Much like fear, excess stress can also play a part in preventing labor. While more likely to stall labor that’s already begun rather than prevent it, that’s still possible. Stress is inevitable, but maybe there’s something going on right now that’s stressing you out. Maybe it’s a holiday, family or finances. Whatever it is, finding healthy ways to deal with stress can help your body relax enough to go into labor.