Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks (that’s around 280 days from the first day of your last period). Most women go into labour within a week either side of this date, but some women go overdue.
If your labour doesn’t start by the time you are 41 weeks pregnant, it is considered to be overdue. You can calculate your due date by using our due date calculator. However, every baby is different and there is a wide range in what is normal for when babies arrive.
It is not clear why going overdue happens sometimes. You are more likely to be overdue if you are obese, have never given birth before or if you’re over the age of 30.
Your midwife or doctor will check that both you and your baby are healthy by giving you ultrasound scans and checking your baby’s movement and heartbeat. The ultrasound might show that your placenta isn’t supplying as much oxygen and as many nutrients to your baby as it was.
In these cases, your doctor or midwife will probably suggest an induction or a caesarean. If tests show that your baby is fine and your health is good, you might choose to wait and see whether labour starts naturally.
Most women go into labour spontaneously by the time they are 42 weeks pregnant. There is a higher risk of stillbirth or fetal compromise (your baby’s health being put at risk) if you go over 42 weeks pregnant, but not every pregnancy over 42 weeks is affected this way. You are also at more risk of a long labour, bleeding after the birth and tearing.
If your pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks and you decide not to have your labour induced, you should be offered increased monitoring to check your baby’s wellbeing.
How is my overdue pregnancy managed?
Your midwife or doctor may offer you a ‘membrane sweep‘ to see if this will trigger labour.
This involves having a vaginal examination, which stimulates the neck of your womb (known as the ‘cervix’) to produce hormones that may trigger natural labour. You don’t have to have this — you can discuss it with your midwife or doctor.
If your labour still doesn’t start naturally after this, your midwife or doctor will suggest a date to have your labour induced, which is when your doctor or midwife uses drugs or tools and techniques to get your labour to start.
Induction is always planned in advance, so you’ll be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with your doctor and midwife, and find out why they think your labour should be induced. It’s your choice whether to have your labour induced or not.
If you are overdue, let your doctor or midwife know quickly if you notice any changes in your baby’s movements (including a decrease, unusual increase or movements stopping altogether). There is no evidence that eating spicy foods or exercising can bring on labour if your baby is overdue.
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Last reviewed: August 2020