Stop the presses – we know when Princess Kate is going to give birth. Or do we? Actually the only time we can ever be certain of when a baby is going to arrive is if there is a scheduled caesarean, and there is no denying that in some cases that is a positive thing. However, I have come to really loathe the concept of the 40-week due date for a number of reasons:
Firstly, it seems such an arbitrary figure to pluck out of the air. In medical terms a baby is believed to have reached full-term from 37 weeks gestation … and anything up to 42 weeks is considered absolutely normal. In France the “due date” is given as 41 weeks, so our international friends cannot agree with us. As a birth doula I tend to go on-call from 38 weeks, but I make sure that all the women I support are aware that the majority (65%) of first-time Mums (primips) go past 40 weeks.
Secondly, the due date is calculated on a woman’s menstrual pattern and I haven’t met many women who have clockwork 28 day cycle. Similarly, the use of ultrasound scans (a subject I might return to in a future post) are notoriously inaccurate. A client of mine was bullied in to having an induction because she had reached 42 weeks, when she knew exactly when she had conceived her baby and by her estimation the baby wasn’t “due” for at least another couple of weeks.
We need to consider the power of language – if we are told to expect our babies around a particular date then it breeds the notion that our baby is “late”, or “overdue” if we go past that particular date. We start to doubt our body’s ability to do what it is meant to do at the time when the baby is ready to be born. And, critically, that starts to affect our hormone levels – adrenaline surges as women become anxious, fearful and apprehensive that they are heading towards induction. The presence of adrenaline in the body of a woman close to giving birth suppresses her oxytocin and endorphin production, the two hormones most needed for birthing babies calmly, happily and well. We have to question the psychological impact of language and the unnecessary damage that is being done to women.
Why can’t we change the way we look at talking to women about when their babies might arrive? If we need to have any guideline to go by then why don’t we have a “best before” date of 42 weeks, whilst recognising that some women will gestate for 43 or even 44 weeks. A recent AIMS journal (AIMS is the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services in the UK and is a fantastic organisation) revealed that medics talking to women in late stages of pregnancy will often “play the dead baby card”, putting fear into the mother that if she doesn’t opt for induction she will put her baby’s life at risk. When I read that I was in total shock, and I have to say, sadly, it isn’t the first time I have heard that argument. The women I support are responsible, educated and intelligent – they are capable of making an informed choice based on their own body, baby and pregnancy, using evidence-based information to support their decision. We have to accept that induction is not without risk, as much as women going well past their “due date” carries risk. Let’s not breed more fear.
So, Kate might well give birth in mid July, as the papers have speculated, but she could easily give birth in late June or even in early August. Let’s not pressurise the poor girl any more than necessary, and allow her body to do what it will naturally do.