What to Do When You're Overdue

If you're at least 40 weeks pregnant and haven't gone in to labor, your baby is overdue. Learn why some women don't go into labor until after 40 weeks, and what can be done to induce labor, including stripping the membranes, monitoring and induction.
overdue pregnant woman

You're 41 long weeks into your pregnancy, and your baby has still not made his or her arrival into the world yet.

You're tired, bloated and so ready for this baby to come out, so what's the hold up? Why haven't you gone into labor yet?

While doctors aren't entirely sure, there are definitely things they can do to help. Here Dr. Chloe Zera of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the experts of Pregnancy Day by Day (Dorling Kindersly, 2009) break it down.

Dr. Chloe Zera of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston weighs on what you can do if you're overdue.

Why Are Some Babies Overdue?

The exact trigger that sets off labor is unknown, so it's not clear why some women go past their due date. But you're more likely to be overdue if this is your first baby, if you've had an overdue baby before or if overdue babies run in your family.

Some think it's more common in well-nourished women, and there's even evidence that pregnancies are longer in the summer than in the winter (sorry, moms-to-be suffering through your 41st week of pregnancy in the middle of July!).

One thing to keep in mind: if your due date was figured out from an early ultrasound, this gives a more accurate dating of your pregnancy than the date of your last menstrual period, and you'll be less likely to be classified as overdue.

If your pregnancy has crept into the 41st or even 42nd week (it happens), there are things your doctor can do to help move the process along.

Stripping the What?

After 40 weeks, your doctor may do an internal examination to "strip the membranes." Don't worry, this is nothing to be nervous about. She'll insert a gloved finger into the cervix and pull the membranes in a circular pattern. This can soften the cervix and increase the chance of your going into labor by 30 percent in the next 48 hours. It's safe for you and your baby, but it can cause cramps and slight bleeding.

Can I Be Induced?

Many doctors induce labor by 41 or 42 weeks.

After 41 weeks, there is a slight risk to your baby's health caused by reduced efficiency of the placenta. After 42 weeks the risk increases, but it's still small. Depending on your hospital's policy, you may be offered an induction around 41 weeks to avoid that risk.

What If I Don't Want an Induction?

Many doctors induce labor by 41 or 42 weeks. If your pregnancy goes beyond 42 weeks and you don't want to be induced, your doctor may offer monitoring with scans to measure the baby's pulse and the volume of fluid around the baby; or you may have an NST once or twice a week until labor to pick up any signs that the placenta is failing. If a problem is found, you'll be advised to have a cesarean or an induction.

How Will I Feel?

Let's face it: No one wants to be pregnant for 42 weeks. The physical and mental stress of being pregnant beyond your due date is exhausting, but it can help to know that unless you have a medical condition, being overdue does not significantly increase your health risks.

You may worry that your baby will grow too large, causing difficulty in labor, but your baby isn't likely to put on enough weight in the last week or so to make a big difference, and most overdue babies have a normal birth weight.

So if you're overdue, do your best to stay calm and relax. Your baby will be here before you know it, and any extra stress you're feeling right now will soon be just a distant memory.

  • pregnancy day by day information book cover
    Pregnancy Day by Day
    An illustrated daily countdown to motherhood, from conception to childbirth and beyond.