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What Does my Due Date Mean? – the reality

Estimated Due Date

So what does my due date really mean? As an NHS Midwife, I’ve answered phone calls in the hospital of people saying “I need to come in to have my baby”. When I’ve taken a bit of a history, I can tell they’re not actually in labour so I ask them to clarify, “why do you need to come in?” and often they say “I’m due today, I’m going to have my baby today”. OH NO!!! I have to be the one to break it to them that they may have another two weeks to go. It is an estimated due date that takes you to 40 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s not set in stone.

How is a Due Date Calculated?

There are two main ways that a due date can be calculated:

From the first date of your last menstrual period (LMP): this method is useful when first finding out you are pregnant to give yourself an idea of when (roughly) you can expect your baby (or babies) to arrive. The calculation itself isn’t hard, but a due date calculator makes it even easier! This method is often used by midwives during the booking appointment however, the date calculated can change once you have had your 12 week scan.

12-week dating scan: this scan is routinely offered to all pregnant women booked in the NHS from 10 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The scan measures different parts of the baby’s body, enabling the sonographer to give a more accurate estimate of the baby’s gestation (age) and so a more accurate due date.

Need For a Due Date

An estimated due date (EDD) is important to have throughout your pregnancy, not only for your own planning purposes but also for the medical professionals who are looking after you. It correlates to how many weeks and days pregnant you are (your gestation) and as healthcare professionals, we consider certain things to be normal and abnormal at various gestations within your pregnancy.

Some of the ways having a due date allows safer care for you and your baby include:

• Making sure your baby is growing how they would be expected to.
• Ensuring you have access to vaccinations and screening tests at appropriate times.
• Investigating any potential pregnancy-related medical conditions accurately.
• Ensuring your baby is born at a safe time for both them and yourself.
• Only around 4% of babies are born on their due date

Accuracy of a Due Date

It’s important to take your estimated due date with a pinch of salt as, whilst there are many benefits to knowing it, there are differing opinions on it’s accuracy. Studies more often find estimation from the 12-week dating scan more accurate than that from calculation based on your LMP and this can be why you might find your due date to change after your first scan.

Some still believe scan calculations to be inaccurate and like everything involving technology- there is always opportunity for errors! Only around 4% of babies are born on their due date so whilst it’s important and useful to know it, the trick is to not pin too much hope on the date itself. Instead, use it as a rough time guide to plan and get excited for when you could expect to meet your baby.

What’s Normal?

When my sister was 37 weeks pregnant she said “It could be any day now” and she was right! At 37 weeks gestation a baby is ‘fully cooked’ and classed as full term meaning they don’t have any more developing to do, they just grow and the lungs continue to mature. However the pregnancy could (and often does) go on, and if the baby is born up to 42 weeks of gestation that’s considered very normal. And that’s exactly what happened to my sister. That was a long five weeks to wait.

What If I Go Past my Due Date?

In the UK, each hospital has different guidelines around whether and when they will offer you membrane sweeps to try and stimulate labour. These can be especially useful if you are approaching or past your due date. Usually by 10-14 days after your EDD, your hospital will offer you induction of labour if you have not already gone into labour naturally yourself.

Be Prepared, But Be Patient!

So it’s good to actually think of your due date as being more of a ‘due period’ somewhere between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. Be ready! Be prepared! But also expect your baby to come later than the date given to you because then it won’t feel like you have to be as patient as you would otherwise. Each month has 28 to 31 days in it but it feels like the last month of pregnancy has about 6000 days in it! Enjoy it, relax and try to be patient!

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