‘Late’ babies: Nature’s cruel joke on the expectant couple.

So your wife or partner has hit the magical 40 week mark. “What now?” I hear you ask.

Well, expect an increasing barrage of well-meaning friends and family to drop the following…
“So, any baby news yet?”, “Are you STILL pregnant?”, “Must be a little too comfy in there!”, “When are you getting induced?”, “Time to serve the eviction notice eh!”, “How long will “they” let you go over?” and not to mention these little gems “You’re HUUUUGE!” and “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” (It is a miracle the speakers of the latter 2 don’t get a punch in the face!)

When I was very pregnant with my first baby I went swimming in the waves at the beach at 41 weeks and 5 days. A man swam over to me and said something along the lines of “I’ve never seen anyone THAT pregnant in real life. Are you sure that’s safe to be swimming?” to which I assured him that my baby was not about to drown! (I went into labour naturally that night and birthed my baby at home 19hrs later!)

What people don’t realise is that their one little comment has probably been said by every single friend or family (especially if they’re on Facebook!), so they all add up to a truckload of pressure which can get overwhelming to a woman who is just as keen to meet her baby – actually I would assume far more so. Women can get the feeling that the world is crammed around her vagina with binoculars waiting for any sign of movement. It’s kinda creepy!

The other thing is that some comments can make her feel like she is taking some massive risk in allowing her baby to come out in it’s own time. I can assure you that most mothers have their baby’s best interest at heart far more than anyone else! 
So it’s your job to be her buffer zone. Screen phone calls and answer them for her. Encourage her to avoid Facebook like the plague or have her regularly post this beautiful poem…

Pregnant Pause

My baby’s not a library book
So she’s not overdue
My baby won’t take too long to cook
‘Cause she’s not a veggie stew

My baby’s not an elephant
And I’m not fit to burst
The time and date aren’t relevant
We’re blessed with days, not cursed

My baby can’t read dates as yet
Because she’s very new
So there’s no cause to fuss and fret
If she doesn’t come on cue

So stop your worry,
Stop your asking,
There’s no hurry
We’re relaxing
In this golden pregnant time
This pause, which is just hers and mine.
You leave us be, we are just fine.

~by Rachel Pritchard, Wales.

And whatever you do “NEVER poke fun at her size!” Jokes about whales and the like are never funny when you’re pregnant. Actually they’re not funny, EVER! If you risk that one, you may be given a swift backhand or kicked out of bed for the night!

So what happens when it comes to the hospital?

Most hospitals have policies which will dictate that a woman will have to be induced anywhere from 7 to 12 days past her due date, depending on the hospital. In birthing centres this will be at 42 weeks, providing all is well and healthy. But these policies do not take into account each woman’s and baby’s individual health profile, or the fact that some women have longer menstrual cycles which can also influence how long the baby will gestate for.

Some doctors can really put the fear into women that their babies will be too big to come out (rare for a healthy woman in active, upright labour!), that some women just don’t ever go into labour (untrue!), or that their babies will die due to the placenta suddenly disintegrating like it has an expiry date (a myth!).

What is the history behind this 40 week due date and how accurate is it?

It is based upon Naegele’s Rule which is a theory made up by a botanist named Harmanni Boerhaave, who in 1744 came up with a method of calculating the estimated due date (EDD) based upon evidence in the Bible that human gestation lasts approximately 10 lunar months.

This formula was publicized around 1812 by German obstetrician Franz Naegele and this theory flourished and then become the accepted norm for calculating the due date. He didn’t take into account though that a lunar month is actually 29.53 days, not 28 days. So when you add it all up, 10 lunar months is actually 15 days longer at around 295 days, not 280 days gestation we’ve been led to believe is average. In fact, if left alone, 50-80% of mothers will gestate beyond 40 weeks, and a study conducted in 1990 reveals that the average first time baby from an uncomplicated pregnancy will be born at 41 weeks and 1 day.

How accurate are dating scans anyway?

Dating scans become less accurate as the pregnancy progresses. The following illustrates how many days it can be out by according to how far along she is:

  • First trimester: 7 days
  • 14 – 20 weeks: 10 days
  • 21 – 30 weeks: 14 days
  • 31 – 42 weeks: 21 days

What can you do to avoid the pressure? 

*Be very vague about your baby’s due date with friends and family. With my second baby, he was due on 26th September so I just told people he was due in early October. What a pleasant surprise my family got when he was born only 2 days past his due date, especially as they expected me to go well overdue again! Or if people already know, pretend you both got it wrong and your midwife or Dr added 2 weeks.

*Find out what your hospital policy is for postdates and when they book inductions – if mum and baby are healthy, she can negotiate to come in for a scan and heart rate check every day or every second day to monitor the baby’s health. If she is booked in with an obstetrician, find out how overdue her Ob is comfortable with supporting her before she can expect to be pressured into an induction. If there are perceived health risks, there is no harm in getting a second opinion.

It is important to know that inductions are a medical procedure which do carry risks, including an increased level of pain and therefore causes increased requests for epidurals, and double the risk of a caesarean section, which also carries risks in itself. This “cascade of intervention” is an unintended side effect of messing with nature.

Is there anything you can both do to try and bring on the labour if she is staring down the barrel of an induction?

Sure. If your baby is close to being ready, there are certainly more natural ways to help bring it earthside without all the risks and side effects of medical induction.

*Sex –Your semen contains prostaglandins which help ripen the cervix to soften it. When it is soft and ripe enough she will go into labour soon afterwards and it will begin to open up to let the baby out. In fact, hospitals use synthetic prostaglandins in gel form to apply to the cervix as an initial way to induce before trying the Syntocinon drip. So you fellas are actually a walking induction machine, and you now have a really great excuse to get lucky! But don’t be a selfish bloke. Get romantic, set the scene and don’t forget to attend to her “needs” first. Orgasm for her can also help by getting those uterine muscles working, as well as flooding her body with oxytocin. In fact I went into labour with my first child, straight after an orgasm! (Note: If her waters have broken, nothing should be going in there, as it can introduce infection!).

*Nipple Stimulation – This increases the release of oxytocin and can help get labour started. You can help do this with your mouth and/or your fingers (gently guys!). Or if she has a breast pump, that is an excellent way to maximise oxytocin release.

*Acupuncture – These tiny needles can be inserted into specific meridian points by an acupuncturist that can help ripen the body in preparation for birth. Acupressure is used with your thumb instead of needles to stimulate the same points and can be done by you instead of an acupuncturist. Google acupressure points for labour and you’ll find what you need to get those thumbs busy!

*Reflexology – Specific points on the base of the foot correspond to different parts of the body, so when a reflexologist pushes points that link to her uterus can stimulate contractions. (I know one reflexologist who can tell by feeling a woman’s foot if she has had a baby and if she had an epidural!)

*Dates – Research shows that eating 6 fresh dates a day for 4 weeks prior to a woman’s due date can lessen the chance of her needing to be induced. There is no research to show it will work after any less time than this so it is best planned earlier but you never know, it may just help get that baby out. And dates are delicious so what has she got to lose? Maybe you could make her some date and coconut rolls. Just put some dates and desiccated coconut in a blender then roll into little logs. Yum!

*Pineapple juice – Pineapple contains an enzyme called Bromelain which is said to help ripen the cervix. But you need to consume it fresh because the tinned stuff doesn’t preserve the Bromelain. So put a whole pineapple (skin removed) in the food processor with some coconut water (full of electrolytes) and make into a yummy tropical juice to consume over the day or night.

*Hot curry – This is thought to bring on labour by stimulating the tummy which in turn can stimulate the uterus to contract. The evening that I went into labour with my firstborn, I had planned on going out for a hot curry dinner to try and bring on labour. I ended up changing my mind as it was going to be such a hot day the next day so I figured I would wait till the next night when the following day was forecast to be a decidedly cooler day for birthing at home with no air con. I went into labour that night anyway but I thought afterwards that if I had gone out for that hot curry, I would’ve attributed that to getting my labour started and I would probably be telling you how great it works. Instead I have the far better story of getting it started with an orgasm! 😉

*Evening Primrose Oil – EPO contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid that the body converts to prostaglandins. She can take 2 capsules 3 x day, and she can also prick a capsule and apply the oil straight onto the cervix to help it ripen and soften (a great option for her if she isn’t the slightest bit interested in your amorous advances!)

*Herbs – Some herbal medicines can have uterine tonic and oxytocic effects which can prepare the uterus and stimulate labour – her cervix needs to be ripe before she has any oxytocic herbs though so using EPO can be a first step to speed up this process. Just make sure you send her to a professional herbalist or naturopath that specialises in pregnancy.  I prescribed a herbal mix to a woman once and she went straight into labour – her baby must have been really ready!

So you can chillax and let your baby choose its own birthday, or you have plenty of options to try and give it a gentler (and funner or yummier) nudge than what they will offer you in hospital. But if your baby is just not ready, there is little anyone can do but wait it out. And they know when to come out as their little lungs secrete a protein to signal to mum that their lungs are mature enough, so inducing before they’re ready carries a risk that they may need more respiratory assistance at birth.
In the meantime, enjoy the sleep (because you can kiss 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep goodbye for a long, long time!)… and enjoy being a lone couple before your lives change forever!

By Virginia Maddock – Sydney Beer + Bubs presenter, Doula, Herbalist, Nutritionist, Placenta Encapsulator.

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