Mayo Clinic Health Library

Overdue pregnancy: What to do when baby's overdue

Updated: 07-23-2011

Your due date has come and gone — and you're still pregnant. What's going on?

Although your due date might seem to have magical qualities, it's simply an educated guess about when your baby is most likely to arrive. It's perfectly normal to give birth one to two weeks before — or after — your due date. In fact, your pregnancy must continue two weeks past your due date to earn the official label of overdue pregnancy, also known as postterm pregnancy.

Enough already!

You might be more likely to have an overdue pregnancy if:

  • The exact date of the start of your last menstrual period isn't known
  • This is your first pregnancy
  • You've had prior overdue pregnancies
  • Overdue pregnancy runs in your family
  • Your baby is a boy
  • You're obese

Rarely, overdue pregnancy might be related to problems with the placenta or the baby.

Whatever the cause, you're probably tired of being pregnant by this point. Your back might ache and your ankles might be swollen. You might be struggling with heartburn and hemorrhoids. You might have trouble sleeping because you simply can't get comfortable — or anxiety about childbirth might keep you awake.

Rest assured, an overdue pregnancy won't last forever. Labor could begin at any time.

Keeping an eye on your pregnancy

Prenatal care will continue after you pass your due date. Your health care provider will watch for signs of complications, such as preeclampsia. He or she will also check your cervix to see if it's begun to thin and dilate in preparation for labor. If you're more than one week past your due date, your health care provider might track your baby's heartbeat with an electronic fetal monitor or use ultrasound to observe your baby's movements and measure the amount of amniotic fluid.

Giving baby a nudge

Sometimes it's better to deliver sooner rather than later — particularly if your pregnancy continues one to two weeks past your due date or your health care provider is concerned about your health or your baby's health. If your baby is overdue, his or her size might complicate a vaginal delivery. In addition, the amount of amniotic fluid might begin to decrease as the baby grows, which can cause the umbilical cord to become pinched as the baby moves or your uterus contracts. In a few cases, aging of the placenta might compromise the baby's ability to thrive in your uterus. An overdue baby is also more likely to inhale fecal waste (meconium), which can cause breathing problems or an infection after birth.

If you and your health care provider decide to induce your labor, you might be given medication to help your cervix soften and open. If your amniotic sac is still intact, your health care provider might break your water by creating an opening with a thin plastic hook. You might feel a warm gush of fluid when the sac breaks open.

If necessary, you might also be given medication to kick-start your contractions. A common choice is Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin — a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. The dosage might be adjusted to regulate the strength and frequency of your contractions.

Hang in there

You're in the homestretch! Whether your health care provider suggests a wait-and-see approach or schedules an induction, do your best to enjoy the rest of your pregnancy.

  • Accept your emotions. It's OK to feel frustrated or disappointed. You probably didn't bargain for more than 40 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Take advantage of the extra time. Sleep while you can. Put the finishing touches on the nursery. Stock your freezer with extra meals. Address birth announcements and thank-you cards.
  • Make plans. Your health care provider might want you to stay close to home, but that's no reason to miss a new movie, go out to dinner or take a walk in the park. Don't be afraid to make plans just because you might need to cancel at the last minute.
  • Put your voice mail and social media accounts to work. To keep well-meaning friends and loved ones informed, consider recording a voice mail greeting with the latest on the pregnancy front or updating your social media accounts accordingly. "We're patiently waiting for the big day!" might be enough to handle the inquiries that are sure to test your patience.
  • Treat home remedies with a dose of caution. A simple Internet search will yield countless results for "natural" ways to trigger labor, such as eating spicy food or having sex. Some tactics are relaxing, others silly — and a few might do more harm than good. Get your health care provider's OK before trying any home remedies, herbal supplements or alternative treatments.
  • Stay in touch with your health care provider. You'll need frequent checkups until your baby is born. Make sure you know what to do if you think you're in labor.

Soon you'll hold your baby in your arms — and the long wait won't matter.

Site view: at a glance