How exciting is that? This is sort of an "unofficial" client, since despite my obsessive independent study, my actual labor support training won't take place until June. It's a long story as to how it came about, which I won't go into for confidentiality reasons, but though I was apprehensive about whether or not it was okay to attend a birth pre-certification, one of the 'senior' doulas in the area encouraged me, saying "You don't need to be certified to hold a woman's hand and bring her a glass of water." True that!
So, as we're heading into the home stretch, the stress and exhaustion of the final weeks of pregnancy are taking their inevitable toll, and mom is anxious to get the show
Yet, I worry that for her, the due date seems like a looming deadline that she has to try to make or even beat, when this couldn't be further from the truth.
When it comes to child development, we know that there is endless variation that all falls within the range of normal. Some babies start teething at 4-5 months, others don't start until 7. Some are crawling by 5 months, some take quite a while longer. Some walk first, some talk first. Sitting up, rolling over, the milestones are endless - and mothers do sometimes get concerned that their babies aren't doing things "on schedule" . . . and they immediately get reassurance from other moms, especially moms with more than one kid, that every child is different and their kid will indeed reach them all in their own good time.
Yet when it comes to pregnancy, we culturally expect every baby to be 'done' at EXACTLY the same time, TO THE DAY?! Makes. No. Sense. Our fixation on one specific, magical date has really done a number on us, so to speak, collectively, to the point where we have come to think of that 40 week delineation not as an estimate but as a deadline. Combine this with a recent study showing that an alarming number of mothers believed the normal length of a pregnancy was 34-36 weeks, fold in an intervention-happy care provider, and add a liberal dash of normal end-of-pregnancy weary impatience, and you have an underbaked recipe for inductions at pandemic levels.
Sorry, my inner food-blogger took over there. Going on: A due "range" is much more realistic, and considering that it can be perfectly healthy two weeks (or sometimes more) in either direction - we really ought to start considering it a 'due month'. Anywhere from 37 or 38 weeks up to 42 weeks can be considered term. Even a "due week" is an improvement. I also like the growing-in-popularity term "guess date" a lot, and am trying to change my own habitual language to use that term more regularly. Now, don't get me wrong, in some cases being truly post-term can be problematic, but this is rare and deserves to be scrutinized on an individual basis, depending on circumstances.
Really think about it. That date is the mid-point on the bell curve of an entire range of days that could be acceptable, not to mention that it is an ESTIMATE in the first place. Hence, its official nomenclature, the Estimated Due Date, a.k.a. EDD. Furthermore, the estimate is itself based on what is often an approximate recollection of LMP. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, if you admire Churchill. A mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma, if you liked "JFK". Or a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest, if you're Lisa Simpson. If there was only one thing, only ONE, that I could change about maternity care in this country, the fixation on the singular so-called due date would be a very, very strong contender.
There are a plethora of wonderful resources out there talking about the many advantages to avoiding early inductions, discuss various non-reasons sometimes given to pressure a mom into induction, and in general talking about the vital importance of the final weeks of pregnancy, and I'll share a bunch of them in a minute here, but let me first illustrate one point with a great visual from the March of Dimes:
Quite the difference there, eh? Among the last things to fully develop in pregnancy are the brains and the lungs - two things that I would never want to take any chances with. From a wonderful read titled "Why Every Week of Pregnancy Counts".
New research shows that those last weeks of pregnancy are more important than once thought for brain, lung and liver development. And there may be lasting consequences for babies born at 34 to 36 weeks, now called "late preterm."Forgive the overzealous marking-up, there, but these are crucial details. Groups like the March of Dimes are getting increasingly concerned about early inductions and scheduled c-sections for this very reason, due to the risk of what is now being called a "late preterm" baby. 36 weeks is an extremely precarious age already- and then what if the "due date" is off, and you've actually got a 34 or 35 weeker? The entirely preventable increase in complications is unconscionable.
A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in October calculated that for each week a baby stayed in the womb between 32 and 39 weeks, there is a 23% decrease in problems such as respiratory distress, jaundice, seizures, temperature instability and brain hemorrhages.
A study of nearly 15,000 children in the Journal of Pediatrics in July found that those born between 32 and 36 weeks had lower reading and math scores in first grade than babies who went to full term. New research also suggests that late preterm infants are at higher risk for mild cognitive and behavioral problems and may have lower I.Q.s than those who go full term.
What's more, experts warn that a fetus's estimated age may be off by as much as two weeks either way, meaning that a baby thought to be 36 weeks along might be only 34.
As promised, more linkage: Here's a good overall collection of some of the abstracts against induction, and here's more on the inaccuracy of many due dates. Lamaze discusses the pitfalls of babies being born even "a little" too early. And finally, here's a great overall piece from Lamaze on why adhering slavishly to a "due date" is NOT a healthy birth practice. It's worthwhile to bring up early in pregnancy. If any care provider insists on going only by the calendar and applies this cookie-cutter to all his or her patients, I personally would keep looking. To reiterate: there are some valid medical reasons for induction (as with any intervention), but just hitting 40 weeks? Not one of them.
Again with the food bloggering - innie-to-outie belly buttons aside, mama's bellies do not come with pop-out turkey timers.