Could Going Past Your Due Date Put Baby at Risk?

New research finds that post-term birth, which happens after 42 weeks, can bring up a slew of problems and birth complications. But is inducing labor the answer?

Could Going Past Your Due Date Put Baby at Risk? Jeremi Broadhurst/Shutterstock

Did you know that just 5 percent of women give birth on their due dates? While we often think of preterm birth as the dangerous alternative to births that happen right on schedule, the truth is, complications can arise when a woman is pregnant past that 40-week mark as well.

According to a recent study, moms who are pregnant past full term are susceptible to illness and infection. Even low-risk pregnancies could produce infants who land in Neonatal Intensive Care Units, according to the study.

"There are women who refuse induction of labor, even more than two weeks past their due date," Liran Hiersch, M.D., lead researcher, said in the study's release. "Without the relevant data, it is difficult for doctors to convince them otherwise. Maybe now, with this research and further studies in hand, we can convince them that even though their pregnancies had experienced no complications—and they are being monitored, say, every three days—they're potentially risking infection, illness and other unforeseen complications by refusing medical intervention."

But despite these dangers associated with post-term labor, some experts argue that not all women should be induced after those 40 weeks. "[The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] suggests that we induce labor at 42 weeks to reduce the risk of complication or fetal loss at term. Most of the doctors around the country are more comfortable with around 41 weeks of pregnancy," Jan Penvose-Yi, M.D., a physician at Radiance OBGYN, told Fit Pregnancy. Dr. Penvose-Yi added that sometimes induced labors are not even successful and women have no choice but to deliver via C-section in those cases.

According to Dr. Penvose-Yi, the risk of complications—which could even include fetal loss—can increase between the 40th and 41st week of pregnancy and can intensify even more between the 41st and 42nd weeks. Still, she clarified that inducing labor is not always the best solution. "I think that it's definitely a case-by-case basic. I try to really individualize the process. The other thing you want to keep in mind, too, is that you want to see what the woman's cervix is doing. Is it an inducible cervix? We don't want to end up in a C-section for no good reason."

Dr. Penvose-Yi added that delivering post-term can be life-threatening and that most of her patients agree to have labor induced at 42 weeks. "I am not a fan of inducing just to induce," she said. "I don't think we should induce just for patient preference, but i will worry about a patient when she goes past 42 weeks. It just makes me uneasy."