What to Do When Baby Is Overdue

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 08, 2023
3 min read

The nursery is painted, the mobile is hanging over the crib, and dozens of adorable onesies are perfectly folded in a dresser drawer. So, where's baby?

Your OB gave you a due date 7-8 months ago, but your little one is not appearing on schedule. Your friends and family keep asking, "When's the big day?" Now that it's passed, you don't know what to say.

Your OB gave you a due date that was 40 weeks from the first day of your last period. Due dates aren't set in stone, though. Pregnancy calculations can be off by a week or two, especially if you didn't remember the exact date of your last period.

Most babies arrive between the 38th and 42nd weeks of pregnancy. When babies haven't arrived by week 42, they're considered late -- or post-term. One in ten babies is born post-term. 

No one is sure why some babies make a delayed entrance into the world. Nothing you did or didn't do during your pregnancy caused your baby to take up an extended residence in your uterus.

However, you may be more likely to deliver late if you:

  • Have never been pregnant before
  • Have had babies born late in the past
  • Have other women in your family who delivered past their due date
  • Were yourself born late

Delivering more than two weeks after your due date can have some risks. The perinatal mortality rate (stillbirths plus early neonatal deaths) at greater than 42 weeks of gestation is twice that at term (4-7 deaths vs. 2-3 deaths per 1,000 deliveries).

Possible problems with a post-term delivery include:

  • Breathing problems in the baby
  • Slowed or stopped growth because of placental failure
  • A drop in the level of amniotic fluid -- the liquid that surrounds and protects your growing baby
  • Fetal distress -- a slowed heartbeat and other signs the baby is in trouble
  • Breathing in the first bowel movement (meconium)
  • Need for a cesarean section (C-section) or forceps delivery because the baby is big
  • Stillbirth

That depends on your original due date, and your baby's health. Your doctor may decide to induce labor after you're one week overdue. Or the doctor may want to wait just a little longer to see if you go into labor on your own.

Meanwhile, your doctor will check you about twice a week to make sure your baby is still doing well. You may have one or more of these tests:

  • Non-stress test, which uses a fetal monitor to track your baby's heart rate
  • Ultrasound to check your baby's growth and movement
  • Measurement of the amniotic fluid
  • Exam of your cervix to see whether it has thinned and widened (dilated) to prepare for labor

If there's a problem with your baby or you still haven't delivered 2 weeks after your due date, your doctor will probably induce labor. Inducing can reduce the chance that you'll need a C-section.

The doctor will give you a medicine called oxytocin (Pitocin). This medicine will make your uterus contract to begin the labor process. You may need a cervical ripening agent prior to the administering of the oxytocin. During labor, the delivery team will take special precautions -- especially if your baby passed their first bowel movement or your amniotic fluid is low.

It's normal to be anxious about your baby's arrival, but try to relax. As long as your doctor says your baby is healthy, it's OK to wait.

Enjoy this little bit of extra time. You'll appreciate it soon enough, when you're changing diapers and feeding your baby round the clock!