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Postterm Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is post-term pregnancy?

Post-term pregnancy means your pregnancy continues to 42 weeks or longer. A normal pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. This is counted from the first day of the last period you had before you became pregnant. The cause of post-term pregnancy is not known. Your risk is higher if your mother had a post-term pregnancy with you. Your risk is higher in future pregnancies after you have had a post-term pregnancy.

How is post-term pregnancy diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your pregnancy. He or she will ask when you had your last period before you became pregnant. This is to help decide if your pregnancy is past 40 weeks along. An ultrasound early in your pregnancy can help providers decide your due date. You may not remember when you had your last period. You may also not have had an ultrasound early in your pregnancy. If this happens, your baby's length will be measured from the top of the head to the rump (bottom). Your provider may also check the size of your uterus. If the provider thinks your pregnancy is at least 42 weeks, the following will help check you and your baby:

  • A manual check means your provider will insert a gloved finger into your vagina to feel your cervix. This is done to see if your cervix is getting soft and starting to open. These are signs that labor may start soon.
  • Fetal ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to show pictures of your baby on a monitor. Healthcare providers check your baby's movement, heart rate, and position.
    Pregnancy Ultrasound
  • A nonstress test is used to record your baby's heart rate. A small metal disc with gel on it is placed on your abdomen. A belt is wrapped around your abdomen to hold the disc in place. The monitor will record your baby's heart rate.

How is post-term pregnancy treated?

If you and your baby are not having health problems, your provider may want to wait until labor starts naturally. He or she will check your baby often to make sure there are no problems. Tests may show that your baby is having problems or may grow too large for you to deliver safely. Your healthcare provider may want to induce (start) labor and deliver your baby. The following may be used to induce labor:

  • Medicine may be given to soften and ripen (thin) your cervix or to start contractions. Medicine to soften your cervix is placed in your vagina, near your cervix. Medicine to start contractions is given through an IV.
  • Sweeping the membranes is a procedure used to move the amniotic sac away from the uterus. This will make your body produce hormones that can help start labor. You may have some mild pain or spotting during this procedure. You may also have cramps.
  • Breaking your water means your healthcare provider makes a small hole in your amniotic sac. This will make the sac rupture and start labor.

How can I care for myself while I wait for labor to start?

You may need to wait at home for your water to break. The following can help you be more comfortable while you wait:

  • Rest as needed. Put your feet up if you have swelling in your ankles and feet. You may need to find a comfortable position that takes pressure off your back. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble getting comfortable.
  • Manage leg cramps. Raise your legs above the level of your heart to decrease swelling. During a leg cramp, stretch or massage the muscle that has the cramp. Heat may help decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on your muscle for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours or as directed.
  • Talk to your provider if you want to try home methods to make labor start. Examples include eating spicy food or having sex. Some methods may not be safe for you or your baby. Ask your healthcare provider before you try these methods.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your water broke or you feel warm water gushing or trickling from your vagina.
  • You do not feel your unborn baby move for 12 hours.
  • You feel cramping or constant pain in your abdomen.
  • You have heavy bleeding from your vagina.

When should I call my obstetrician?

  • You have more than 5 contractions in 1 hour.
  • It takes longer than usual to feel 10 of your unborn baby's movements.
  • You do not feel your unborn baby move at least 10 times in 2 hours.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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