Let’s Do Away With The Pregnancy Due Date!

The due date is frequently viewed as the pinnacle of scientific prediction, and health care for pregnant women. In reality it is neither.

Let’s Do Away With The Pregnancy Due Date!

The Estimated Due Date became the Due Date, then to ease anxiety it became a Guess Date. No matter what you call it, it gives the impression that there is one date when your baby is more likely to be born. Any time after that date they are late. Having been heavily pregnant quite a few times, I know how hard the end is, so in my last pregnancy I found a way to make it all much easier. I didn’t have a due date.

I’ve had two babies at forty-two weeks plus five days, both caesareans. I’ve had a twenty-eight week baby, who was stillborn (due to listeria poisoning) and I’ve had a perfect, smooth and easy homebirth at forty-four weeks. Then I had a perfect freebirth …… and I really can’t impress upon you how much better it was when I didn’t spend weeks waiting.

The idea that our health is directly linked to gestation is a strange one. Hospitals are asking us to believe that we are all good until we hit EXACTLY FORTY WEEKS. At forty weeks we become some kind of ticking time bomb.

So let’s think about that in more depth. Which other area of health is directly linked to a calendar? Do we all get dentures at sixty-five? What about a hip replacement at 75? Maybe we could all get a pacemaker at eighty…. Good luck convincing my father of that!

Perhaps we need to pay more attention to our teeth, bone density, and heart health as we age, but the suggestion that each and every one of us undergo invasive medical treatments at a certain age would be laughed out of town. Rightly so!

Why then does each woman who remains pregnant after her due date, endure an invasive induction process or in some cases major surgery (a caesarean) almost without question? Most likely, because traditionally we have viewed pregnancy as an extremely dangerous, fragile condition. However with the excellent living conditions of women in developed countries, the high standard and availability of good quality nutrition, clean water, and of course the multitude of ways to monitor pregnancy for signs of ill health, treating each woman, regardless of her or her baby’s health in exactly the same way is insane! Literally!

Pregnancy is a highly emotive subject. Pregnancy loss, or maternal death perhaps more so, but despite all our induction and intervention, we are not seeing a reduction in loss. Don’t get me wrong, there are many instances where medical intervention is a marvellous thing saving the lives of women and babies, but that’s not a routine practice. A routine pregnancy is healthy until it becomes otherwise. It isn’t something that requires us all to be at panic stations until the baby has been born.

At the end of pregnancy women begin desperately watching for any sign of impending labour. They are tired, uncomfortable, and because most women would prefer to avoid a medical induction or caesarean, the due date has become the pinnacle of pregnancy. Not only that, but the fear of decades of living with obstetric culture telling us that we MUST give birth before a certain date, means we are fearful of being heavily pregnant, especially after forty weeks.

Was it always like this? We can’t really know. What we can say on this subject though, is that before men began attending births (as doctors) women dated their pregnancies differently. They began waiting for their babies to be born at least a week after women in 2016 begin waiting.

Traditionally women timed their pregnancies by observing moon cycles and pregnancy lasted for ten moon cycles. A moon cycle is approximately 29 days, so a pregnancy was expected to last at least 290 days – not that they would have counted those days. They were observing the moon cycles so they had no need to count. Forty weeks on the other hand, is only 280 days. This shows us that historically, women didn’t even start waiting for birth until around ten days after women today.

It’s odd really, because in some recess of our minds we know full well that giving birth on the day we turn forty weeks is relatively unlikely (less than 5%) but we still pitch all our hopes and dreams on it. I suppose it comes down to our fear of medical induction, our understandable eagerness to meet our babies, and the desperation to be able to  walk, rather than waddling! I totally TOTALLY get that, having been heavily pregnant so many times.

That’s why when I found out I was expecting my youngest child I did away with the DUE DATE altogether. I tracked pregnancy by knowing when my last period was and estimating when I would be forty weeks. I put no importance on that date. I called it my FORTY WEEK DATE. After that I had a START TO WAIT DATE which was calculated by taking the first day of my last period, and adding 290 days. Then by some crazy set of coincidences I went into labour on my start to wait date. He was born the next day, after an eleven hour labour.

He was born on my thirty-fifth birthday, a day which happened to be Mother’s Day that year. I told you there were all sorts of crazy coincidences that day.  

The way our culture treats heavily pregnant women is a crying shame. Women are vulnerable enough when they’re forty weeks pregnant, without all that fear and pressure being piled on them. Imagine if we took all the focus off the calendar and put it on the health of the woman and her baby. Imagine if we included MENTAL health in that, if we made mental health into a major focal point for maternity health care. The Due date would have to go.

So how could we manage maternity care without a due date? We could have two basic estimations in consultation with women, health care, and advanced testing.  Healthy, or unhealthy. Doing fine, or needs support. It’s that simple!

Contrary to popular belief, there is no link between being exactly forty weeks and declining health. Does this mean we would no longer observe gestation? Of course not! It means that we would rewrite its importance, and in doing so we would create a more emotionally healthy landscape for heavily pregnant women. Having a due date pass without a birth is hard for many women, but having a date on which we “give permission” for women to start waiting supports their emotional well being at the end of pregnancy when they are tired and overwhelmed by it all.  

FOR FURTHER READING

due dates - pregnant woman by screen of slogans
What have due dates done for us?
License: Creative Commons CC0.

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