Why Counting Down to Your Due Date is a Bad Idea | Fit Pregnancy

Why Counting Down to Your Due Date is a Bad Idea

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woman counting down her due date

I have two friends who are due at the end of August.  Both are first timers, healthy and had fairly easy pregnancies.  There’s been a little nausea here and there and a few aches and pains, but other than that they’ve both been really fortunate to have lovely pregnancies.  

They’re both eager to meet their daughters, but one is counting down the days to her due date like she’s going on a cruise.  “Twenty seven more days” she posts on her Facebook page.   The date is so embedded in her mind that frankly I’m a little worried. What’s going to happen when she gets close to her due date and there’s no sign of labor?  What if she cruises right on past it?  Will she be disappointed and impatient? Will she start doubting her body? She can’t cancel the trip, but she might be tempted to change her travel plans.

My other friend is taking a more laid back approach. She knows she’s going on a cruise pretty soon.  She’s packed and ready to go, but she’s not sure of the actual launch date. If labor doesn’t start by her due date, that’s cool.  A little sooner, a little later doesn’t much matter. It’s still going to be one heck of a big trip.  

I’ve written before that due dates are only an estimate of when your baby’s going to arrive.  It’s not an etched in stone appointment.  First time moms, if left alone to go into labor naturally tend to be pregnant for about 41 weeks and 1 day.  Women who’ve had babies before tend to deliver around 40 weeks and 3 days. Only about 10% of women go longer than 42 weeks.  That’s average.  Some deliver earlier and some go a little longer and it’s almost always completely normal. A little frustrating, maybe, but still normal.

Your due date is set at 40 weeks and many care providers emphasize that anything after 38 weeks is considered full term.  Frankly I don’t think that’s cool.  It just sets women up for disappointment. Two weeks before her due date she starts thinking “any day now.” When her due date crawls past and nothing happens, it’s disheartening. If she still has a week or so to go, it feels like torture. It also sets her up think she (or her doctor/midwife) needs to intervene to get things going.   This is where a lot of inductions come from; from the impression that since labor hasn’t already started naturally, then it’s probably never going to start unless somebody starts it with medicine.  That’s not terribly logical.

Most of the time when women go past their due date, nothing’s wrong with them or their babies. They’re just not done yet.  Let it be.  Your body knows what to do so much better than you give it credit for.  Unless there’s some indication that there’s a problem, just chill.  It’s going to happen.  No one has ever been pregnant forever.  

I prefer the idea of a floating due date.  I think it would be kinder and more accurate to tell women, “your baby will be here sometime near the end of August or beginning of September.”  Then, women won’t think there’s anything wrong with them.  I’ve heard so many women say, “My body just wouldn’t go into labor so my doctor had to induce me.”  Well, of course, your body will go into labor.  That’s what it was designed to do.  Maybe it won’t go into labor on one specific date, but geez, have a little patience and flexibility, will ya?

I think women need a reward strategy for enduring the last days and weeks of pregnancy.  It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, but every day you go past your due date, give yourself a treat.  Go to a movie, buy some new socks, make a pan of brownies, get someone to paint your toenails or give you a massage, watch a Sex and the City marathon.  It doesn’t really matter what the reward is, as long as it gives you something enjoyable to look forward to help take the sting out of waiting for labor.

Due dates set the stage for the unpredictable nature of parenting.  Labor is only the beginning.  There are so many things you don’t really have any control over.  When those things come up, sometimes the best way of dealing with them is to just let it be. You don’t always have to do anything when things aren’t going exactly as expected.  It’s not going to be the cruise you planned on anyway. It’s going to be a different trip altogether.  Just sit back and wait for things to happen in their own good time.  It’s not about the schedule.  It’s not about the destination.  It’s about the journey.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.

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