Definition

A normal pregnancy lasts 38 to 42 weeks. A post-term pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks. The risk of certain health problems is higher in post-term pregancies. During this time, your doctor will watch you closely for changes.

Causes

The exact cause is not known. Changes in hormone levels or certain defects with the baby may play a role.

Many times, it is caused by a wrong due date.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of a post-term pregnancy include:

  • First pregnancy
  • Prior post-term pregnancy
  • Having a boy
  • Obesity
  • Older age of the mother

Symptoms

There are no symptoms. If you are pregnant after your due date, keep seeing your doctor.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will review your history to make sure the due date is right. You may need:

  • Ultrasound —To see how much fluid is around the baby, what position the baby is in, or to check on your baby's movements.
  • Fetal monitoring—To check the baby's heartbeat.

Your doctor will check your cervix for signs of labor. Near the end of pregnancy, the cervix gets softer and starts to open up.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Close Monitoring

Some women and their doctors choose to wait for labor to begin on its own. During this time, the doctor will watch the baby’s heart rate, fluid levels around the baby, and the baby's breathing and movements.

Your doctor may start labor if you have any problems or your pregnancy lasts longer than 42 weeks.

Starting Labor

If labor has not started on its own, there are ways your doctor can start it. These include:

  • Medicines to help soften and open the cervix.
  • Break your water by making a small tear in the sac around the baby. It does not cause pain and can start contractions.
  • Separate the membranes around your baby by running a finger around the neck of the cervix.
  • Give a medicine called oxytocin. Oxytocin can start contractions, and keep them strong and regular.

Starting labor rather than waiting lessens the chance of needing a cesarean section.

Full Term Fetus with Intact Membranes
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Prevention

There is no way to prevent a post-term pregnancy.

Do not try to start labor yourself with home remedies. They can cause harm to you and your baby.

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