The amount of emphasis there is on the magic 40 weeks gestation, more commonly known as the ‘due date’, surely this has to mean something, right? Should my baby be born on this date, or by this date? On social media, people count down the days to this date, as the time approaches a barrage of messages ensues, wanting news of baby’s imminent arrival. And what does this pressure and expectation do to women anxiously anticipating their baby’s arrival, and to the belief they have in their bodies ability to birth?
The truth is, that magic 40 weeks itself is a rather insignificant date. It is a date which was coined as a rough average, around which a woman was expected to give birth. Now the focus here is the word ‘around.’ A term pregnancy is between 37-42 weeks. So an ‘overdue’ or ‘post dates’ pregnancy, is that which is post 42 weeks. Many women birth after 40 weeks, so many in fact, that France classes 41 weeks as the ‘due date’, which I will rephrase as, ‘the average time of birth’.
But how accurate are these dates? A scan must give a correct due date right? No. The most accurate time for a scan to estimate gestation is between 10-14 weeks, and even then can only be accurate to within a week of the true date. Estimating gestation outside of this four week window is not particularly reliable. If a woman has been having regular periods, or is confident of the date of conception, then this can sometimes give a more accurate date than a scan, and should be discussed and considered.
Now, we need to consider the psychological impact and subsequent physiological responses, to the social and medical pressure on a pregnant woman to have her baby. It is astonishing that this pressure exists at all, when the commencement of labour is something women clearly have no control over. There is no magical ‘birth my baby’ switch! With this overwhelming expectation comes stress, anxiety and self-doubt. These things cause increased levels of adrenaline in the body, which in turn, inhibits the production of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is our birthing hormone which understandably needs to flow uninhibited in order for our body to labour. And women need confidence and self-belief in order to fully embrace and embody this labour. The only helpful and necessary comments to a woman nearing the end of her pregnancy, are those of positive affirmations and love. Oxytocin is, after all, the incredible hormone of love.
Finally, there are many important changes happening within the body during these final few weeks and days. Your body, baby and placenta are all working together in harmony to increase levels of particular hormones and receptors for these to bind to. These will both prepare baby for birth, making it easier for baby to cope with the demands of labour and the transition to life out of the womb, and also give the body all the tools it needs to bring baby into the world. This is an important, sacred time, and should not be disturbed unless medically necessary. As we are all individuals, this preparation process will be completed at different times for all of us. This is what we mean when we say that birth will happen when your body and baby are ready.
So, what is my advice to women preparing to meet their baby? To think of pregnancy as 42 weeks gestation? Definitely. To cherish these final weeks, surround yourself with love, and embrace your inner goddess? Absolutely! In most cases, when a woman and her baby, together in harmony, are ready, birth will happen.
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