A typical pregnancy lasts 38-42 weeks. A post-term pregnancy lasts beyond 42 weeks. The risk for certain health problems is higher in post-term pregnancies than in full-term pregnancies. This condition requires additional care and monitoring from your doctor.
The exact cause of a prolonged pregnancy is unknown. About 5%-10% of pregnancies become post-term.
Previous post-term pregnancy is the most common risk factor. Other factors may include first pregnancy, obesity, and older maternal age.
Your medical history will be reviewed to make sure that your due date is correct. Your doctor may advise:
- Ultrasound —To measure amniotic fluid and see how much your baby is moving
- Fetal monitoring—To check the baby's heartbeat
Your doctor may also check your cervix to see if it is opening and thinning in preparation for labor.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Some women and their doctors choose to wait for labor to begin on its own. During this period, the doctor will closely monitor the baby’s heart rate, amniotic fluid levels, breathing, and movement. If there are any signs of problems or your pregnancy continues beyond 42 weeks, your doctor may recommend labor induction.
If labor has not started naturally, there are a number of ways your doctor can try to induce labor.
- Medications can help soften and open the cervix.
- A small tear is made in your amniotic sac to break your water. This is painless and can trigger contractions.
- Your doctor may do a membrane sweep. Your doctor uses a finger to sweep around the neck of your cervix to separate it from the membranes around your baby. This action releases hormones called prostaglandins, which may induce labor.
- Your doctor may give you a medication called oxytocin. Oxytocin starts contractions and helps them to remain strong and regular.
In general, women with a post-term pregnancy who have an induced labor are less likely to need a cesarean delivery than women who wait for labor to begin naturally.
There is little that can be done in advance to reduce your chances of having a post-term pregnancy. If your pregnancy lasts beyond 42 weeks, talk to your doctor before trying any home remedies for starting labor. Most home remedies are unproven and some may be harmful to you or your baby.
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm, MD
- Review Date: 01/2017 -
- Update Date: 03/15/2015 -