By Julie Watson (UB Academy)
I’m going to start at the beginning with the date all pregnant mums want to know and countdown to….their ‘Due Date’.
Imagine this, you’re expecting your period…. the day comes and goes…. a week late, turns into two….could it be??? Are you really pregnant??? You buy 1,2 maybe 10 pregnancy tests and you pee on every one, and then you wait…… as you open your scrunched up eyes and peer down, that little window to your future shows the word “PREGNANT” or a ‘+’ sign and so it begins.
Once people have congratulated you, the next question is always ‘when are you due?’ When you are seen by your midwife for the first time, she asks for the 1st day of your last period and from that single day she adds on 7 days and 9 months…. as if by magic you know when your baby is going to arrive. Simple right? If only.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to plan around a specific date? Like women do when they are getting married. Partner will be off work, other kids will be at Nannas for the day, food precooked and nappies bought. But this is not like planning a wedding, it is not just about that one day you are going to birth your baby, the weeks leading up to the day you go into labour should be enjoyed and treasured. Some days and weeks are tougher than others but remember what you’re doing……. You are growing another human, just awesome.
So, what is the history behind the way we decipher a woman’s due date, it’s called the Naegele’s rule and as much as I would like to tell it was based on a huge piece of research, sadly I can’t. It was based on 100….yes 100 women in the Netherlands in 1744!! Their ‘due date’ versus ‘birthday’ were noted and then the ‘standard’ 28-day menstrual cycle with ovulation on day 14 were added, because of course us women all ovulate on the same day and have a strict 28-day cycle…. NOT, and so the rule was born and has been in place ever since…. yes, in place for 276 years!!! The man who carried out the study added 7 days onto the last day of the women’s period and then added 9 months, and just to add to the confusion, about 100 years ago we decided that adding 7 days onto the last day of the woman’s period was wrong and we should add 7 days onto the 1st day of the woman’s last period, not because there had been additional research, just because!!!
Have I convinced you yet about extraordinary logic and research behind the date our babies are due??
We did introduce ultrasound scans in the 1950s and from that came the dating scan which although more accurate still only correctly predicted in 4% of pregnancies, so only 4 out of every 100 women will actually be birthing their baby on that wonderful date that is etched in our minds and circled with stars on our calendars.
So why can’t we predict more accurately? Has there been any other studies? There was a larger study in 2001 which included 1514 women, it showed for women having their first baby there was a 50% chance of them birthing their baby by 40+5 and a further 25% chance of them giving birth before 41+2. It also showed women having their second or subsequent baby would have a 50% chance of birthing their baby by 40+3 and a further 25% chance of giving birth by the time they were 41 weeks.
So, you’ve got the history and the little bit of research there is available, but what does all this mean or you, here and now?? All it really can concretely say is 4% of women will birth their babies on their due date and that the remaining 96% won’t. Are you going to be one of the 4%??…….. who knows!!!
Over my years as a midwife I have seen so many women become stressed by their due date, they went to bed relaxed and excited on the night they were exactly 40 weeks and then wake up the following morning and everything has changed.
The words that are used in relation to our pregnancy alter, we begin to talk about our babies now being ‘overdue’ or ‘late’, never that they are comfy and making the most of being tucked up inside, cuddling their placenta.
Our relatives begin to call and message asking if there are any signs of labour or if the baby has arrived yet, they can become impatient, adding extra pressure and cementing the words ‘overdue’ and ‘late’ in the woman’s subconscious.
Health professionals start to document differently in our notes, at the point a woman moves from 40 to 41 weeks we don’t document 41+ 1,41+2, no we leave the woman in her 40 th week and begin to document 40+8, 40+9, 40+10, again adding to that notion that we have moved into a period of unchartered territory……..simply not true.
Some will ask why does this change in approach to the wonderful last weeks of pregnancy matter? The reason it matters is that when a woman is stressed, knowingly or unknowingly she produces adrenaline, adrenaline dampens down oxytocin which is the hormone our bodies need in big flooding waves, oxytocin encourages and strengthens our surges and one by one those surges will support us to birth our babies.
I would love for all women to see the last weeks of pregnancy as a wonderful window, that lasts 5 weeks as outlined by The World Health Organisation, from 37 to 42 weeks. Enjoy every day, every hour, every minute you have your baby growing inside you. Book some exciting treats for those weeks, things that will bring oxytocin in abundance. Walks in the park, a beauty treatment, a foot rub from your other half while watching your favourite film……. kiss, laugh, cuddle and wait for your baby and your body to do their thing.
Trust your body, welcome the wait and enjoy the time.