I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I hate the term “due date.” Due date is a term that causes pregnant women lots of stress. When a woman* who is excited to have a child first finds out she is pregnant, one of the first things she does is try to calculate her due date. She then becomes very attached to this date. Most women (especially first time moms) believe that this date that their children will be born.
Often times when women go to the doctor/midwife for the first time, they have an ultrasound to make sure that everything is healthy and progressing. At this point, the fetus is often measured and then the woman is given an “official due date.” If the official due date is off from the one she calculated, the pregnant woman can become very upset, even if it’s only a few days. This is silly (but I’d never say that to a pregnant woman’s face), because what does it matter if it’s a few days off. Bodies are different; menstrual cycle times are different; luteal phases are different; fetal development can even be slightly different.
That brings me to my biggest problem with due dates. Due date implies that this is the actual date that something will happen. But we know from research that the average gestational time for a human is 40 weeks with a standard deviation of about 10 days. That means that most babies are born between 38.5 and 41.5 weeks. That’s a range of three weeks! I read somewhere (but I can’t find it now) that only 30% of women give birth on their due dates. That’s a pretty small amount.
And due dates can be used to pressure pregnant women into medically unnecessary procedures.** “Oh, your due date has past and the baby isn’t here yet, we should induce you right now, never mind that it’s only two days later and still well within one standard deviation.” It can work too, because the woman has a very specific date in her head is willing to try to mess with nature when nature often knows exactly what it is doing.
It can be even worse for women who are trying to plan maternity leave (especially in the United States) or for women who are planners, because babies can come before their due date and they can come after. Babies can’t tell time, they only know that they’re ready when they’re ready. It’s hard to know if you’ll make it through the work day or if it will be your last day of work for a while and is everything ready and done? And if you go past your due date, then everyone starts asking you if you are “still” pregnant, like there’s something wrong, instead of your baby just needing a bit more time.
So what can we do about it? The simplest solution is to replace due date with new term. I propose “40-week mark.”
40-week mark is an easy term to understand. It’s the date that a fetus will reach the average of 40 weeks of gestation. It will give pregnant women an approximate date, but without the connotation of something being due to happen on an exact date. It will give medical professionals the information they need to know how far along a woman is in her pregnancy and when to be concerned if she goes into labor much earlier than her 40-week mark or goes to a 42-week mark (there can be known complications in both of these directions). It can help family, co-workers etc have an idea of when a baby will be born but again without a strong way to put pressure on the woman if she passes the mark.
From now on I will no longer use the term due date. I will use the term 40-week mark. Just hope that others out there will join me in this.
* I am using female pronouns in this post as the majority of people who have the organs to gestate babies are female. However, I want to acknowledge that some males also get pregnant and they should not be left out of this either.
** There are times where there are medically necessary procedures that need to be done for the health of the mom, the baby, or both. This is not to discount those. I’m so thankful that we live in a society where women are expected to live through childbirth and more babies survive than don’t. But I do believe that we over use these procedures for a variety of reasons. Research shows that medical interventions should be around the 5-10% mark and are often at a 30% mark or higher.