Walking through the park today, surrounded by the colours of autumn and the floor littered with conkers, I had a realisation. Pregnant women are very much like those conkers! No, not because of their shiny, hard roundness, though there is some similarity there. What struck me was there were conkers of all stages of ripeness covering the ground. Conkers still hanging in the trees. Conkers fallen on the ground but still completely encased in their shells. Conkers half out of their shells and conkers completely free of their protective layer. Some of those fresh from their shells and some clearly freed from them for quite some time. And these conkers were all from the same tree, not even different trees.
It’s autumn and nature dictates that they’ve had their allocated time of growth. Although they’ve all ripened in roughly the same time window, they’ve all reached their peak at slightly different times. This is the way with everything in nature. Those daffodils that are ready for planting now will all bloom on different days. The apples on the tree that are ripening now will all be ready to eat on different days. And so it is with pregnant women and their babies. We are natural beings so why do we expect all our babies to be born at exactly 40 weeks? There is nothing else in a person’s life that we’re so hung up on dates about. Once a baby is born, no one starts counting the days until the first tooth appears and starts getting stressed if they haven’t appeared by x date. No one expects babies to take their first steps or say their first words on a specific date. No one expects adolescent girls to start their periods at the exact same age. These natural occurrences all happen at roughly the same time. In most cases there is no stress if they don't happen on time, we accept these things will happen when they happen.
So why are we so hung up on this 40 week period for growing human babies? We don’t expect any other species to give birth at the exact same time and we don’t expect all the fruit or veg we grow to ripen on the same day. The crazy thing is the data we used to establish this 40 week period is over 200 years old. It was conducted using such a small sample of women it would never be used as a scientific measurement if the same study was done today. In fact a study was done in 1990 using a much bigger sample size. It found that first time mother's average length of pregnancy was 274 days rather than the 266 (40 weeks). That’s more than a week later! The World Health Organisation cites full term pregnancy as being between 37 and 42 weeks. So shouldn’t we and our health service be changing the view of ‘overdue’ to anything past 42 weeks?
Any pregnant woman will tell you it’s great to have a date in mind for when they will finally get to meet their baby. Any pregnant woman who has gone ‘overdue’ will also tell you how stressful it can get! You start to worry something is wrong or you’re just plain fed up with 50,000 people asking you if the baby has come yet (when it quite clearly hasn’t!). It also doesn’t help when the minute you get to 40 weeks your midwife starts asking you if you want a sweep and tries to book you in for an induction. Yes there are slightly higher risks once you go past 42 weeks. But why can’t they start talking about sweeps and inductions when you get to 42 weeks rather than as soon as you get to this unrealistic deadline of 40 weeks? So many women would be far less stressed around this time. The less stressed you are the more oxytocin you produce. The more oxytocin you produce the more likely you are to go into spontaneous labour. So come on midwives, give us a break and acknowledge that we’re natural beings and nothing in nature happens to exact timelines. Let us be, at least until we get to 42 weeks!
How do you think you’ll feel if you go past 40 weeks? Or even 42?