I’m overdue! What happens when you go past 40 weeks

Dr Christine Catling
Dr Christine Catling
Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Created on Oct 10, 2023 · 3 mins read

Congratulations, you’ve made it to 40 weeks! While you’re probably feeling pretty darn tired and over it right about now, and ready to meet that little houseguest keeping you up at night, it’s actually very common for your due date to come – and go – with no baby in sight.

In fact, the chances of actually giving birth on your due date are seriously low, considering it’s calculated off a 40-week estimate from when you think you fell pregnant (not taking into consideration the inner workings of your body and when conception actually took place).

So while we’re sorry to break it to you that you still might have as much as two weeks to wait… The good news is that it definitely won’t go beyond that – and so the light is definitely at the end of the tunnel!

Who is more likely to be overdue?

  • If you’re a first-time mum
  • You were overdue with a previous pregnancy
  • You’re having a boy
  • You’re overweight
  • There was an error calculating your due date

Why can’t I go past week 42?

…Said no pregnant woman ever!

But still, the reason your obstetrician or midwife won’t let you go beyond week 42 is that by that stage the placenta, which has been working so hard to grow and nurture your baby, has had enough and may cease to provide your baby with what it needs to survive.

Other factors that pose risks or complications include:

  • Increased birth weight – as your baby continues to get bigger this will make it harder to have a vaginal birth and may result in requiring a caesarean section.
  • Low amniotic fluid – this can affect your baby’s heart rate and interfere with the umbilical cord.
  • Higher risk of vaginal tearing or episiotomy
  • Increased postpartum bleeding
  • In rare cases going beyond 42 weeks could result in stillbirth or foetal complications.

What happens after 40 weeks?

Your obstetrician or midwife will continue to monitor you weekly and by 41 weeks they will likely suggest a ‘stretch and sweep’ which involves the midwife or doctor manually disrupting the amniotic sac with a finger in the hope of separating it from the cervix and getting labour happening naturally. This is a relatively painless (uncomfortable) and low-risk procedure, and it can help induce labour, but not always.

They will likely also speak with you about setting a date for induction on the chance that you don’t go into labour naturally before then.

If you are really keen to avoid induction and are approaching the 42-week mark, speak with your midwife or obstetrician about what options are available to you.

In the meantime, there are a number of things you can do to try and get labour happening naturally, such as:

  • Having sex
  • Acupuncture
  • Walking/light exercise
  • Spicy food
  • Nipple stimulation

Hang in there, you’re so close, try not to get anxious or stress out about it (easier said than done we know!) but that can make it worse! Try and relax and enjoy the final bit of downtime and rest while you can…

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