I strongly believe that we should ban the word ‘late‘ when referring to babies who have not yet arrived beyond the due date!
When women themselves think that they are ‘late’ going into labour it causes anxiety and stress, as they feel pressure put upon them that their body is not working as it should. This increases the production of adrenaline, which actually means that labour is less likely to start! Women need to feel calm and confident to produce oxytocin.
It is in fact the baby who decides when it is the right time for labour to begin. We know that the last organ to develop in utero are the fetal lungs. At the right time a key protein, surfactant, is secreted by the fetal lungs that signals the initiation of labour.
I like to think of the variation in when babies arrive as being like beautiful red apples ripening and falling from a tree. They do not all fall to the ground on the same day! Over a period of a few weeks they ripen, and then fall when they are ready. If you try to pull one off before it is ripe and ready it is a real tug to get it off the tree, and that fruit is not quite so sweet because it wasn’t quite ready.
Remember, it is completely natural and normal for babies to arrive anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy in a healthy pregnancy.
Of course there are genuine and sound reasons why a labour should be induced; for example, when a woman has high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, maternal age is over 40, a baby who is no longer growing well within the womb, or maternal diabetes.
In a healthy pregnancy there is a grey area once the pregnancy reaches 12 days beyond the due date and generally induction of labour is offered at this point, with a view to baby being born and in your arms by 42 weeks. A question always worth considering – is mum okay, is baby okay? This is a constantly evolving consideration and responsibility, both for expectant parents and health care professionals.
Importantly, if all is well with mum and baby then women should trust their bodies to labour and birth when the baby signals the time is right. The physiology of growing a fetus from two cells into a complex, perfect tiny human is a miracle and absolutely amazing! Let’s believe and encourage expectant parents at term that physiology also knows when and how to labour and birth their baby.