Thursday, December 11, 2008

Due Dates: A Cruel and Dangerous Lie!

As soon as a woman finds out she's pregnant, the countdown begins to her "due date."  But have you ever thought about where that 40-week calcuation comes from?

It was actually started by Dr. Naegele, a doctor in Germany in the 1850s.  Without any scientific evidence, he observed that his patients' pregnancies lasted around 10 lunar months.  He developed a calculation for estimating a woman's due date by figuring that her pregnancy would be 280 days (40 weeks)  from the first day of her last period.

Read more about that here.

So, despite all of the advances in medicine and research in the past 150 years, we are still basing our calculations on this man's less-than-scientfic calculation.  Does anything seem wrong with this picture??

A study at Harvard in 1990 found that uncomplicated pregnancies that are allowed to go into labor spontaneously actually averaged a gestation of 41 weeks and 1 day... significantly longer than Dr. Naegele's estimate, which is universally used by practitioners in the US.  And that's the average.  Think about how many women spontaneously go into labor much sooner than that.  In order for that to be the average, many women must also go into labor much later, and it is perfectly normal.

I say that this 40 week due date is a cruel lie because it is telling women to expect to have their babies much sooner than is actually probable.  Only 3-5% of babies are actually born on their due date.  When you are 40 weeks pregnant, tired, uncomfortable, and anxious to meet your new baby, every extra day can feel like an extra year.  Especially when you are hearing "overdue" everywhere you go and everybody you know is asking, "haven't you had that baby yet??"  If we didn't expect our babies until significantly later, then gestating beyond 40 weeks would not be so mentally taxing.

I say that this is a dangerous lie because, even in the face of MUCH more recent and more scientific evidence, practitioners still cling tightly to this 40 week due date as the limit for a healthy pregnancy.  Therefore, many labors get induced before the baby is ready to be born, just because the mom is "overdue."  Doctors use scare tactics like, "the baby is going to get too big," "the placenta will degrade," or "the amniotic fluid is getting too low" to get reluctant mothers to agree to induction (which is in and of itself a whole 'nother rant for another day).  These may be good reasons for induction in rare cases, but it is much more rare than you would think by listening to doctors of women who haven't had their babies by 40 weeks.

Babies are born when they are ready!

The science of how labor begins is still not totally known, but it is believed to be instigated by a hormone that the baby secretes whenever he or she is fully developed and ready to come out.  Go figure... God knew what he was doing when he designed this whole process!  ;)

 So the morals of the story are:
  • Don't get too attached to your due date.  Expect pregnancy to be longer and you won't be disappointed by being "overdue."
  • Ask lots of questions and make a truly informed decision about induction if you do go past 40 weeks.  Know the significant risks present for you and your baby if you agree to be induced.  Don't just think, "well the doctor wouldn't do it if it wasn't best."
  • It is YOUR decision.  NOT your doctor's. 
  • Trust your body, your baby, and the Lord who created both.


  1. AMEN, SISTER! I hope this post triggers a lot of people do some responsible, independent research about the FACTS related to due dates. The longer baby stays on the inside, the STRONGER baby will be when he's introduced to the outside. :)

  2. I just think that it is so amazing that God has designed the baby to know when he or she is physically ready to enter this world and to begin the process of labor. Amazing!

  3. Very informational! I never knew any of that! This is your first right? You're so well informed! I need to work on that!

  4. I just stumbled upon your blog and think this is a great post! I think women need to be reminded of that, and in a country where the c-section rate is now 40% (and when one is induced, the chances of a c-sesction increase), this is something women should be aware of. I haven't read all your posts yet to get caught up, but are you having a doula? I am 24+ weeks and trying to get one now, as they, supposedly, decrease the chance of unnecessary inducing and c-sections. Best of luck with your last few weeks of pregnancy--however many there are!