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So, when are you due?

This is the most frequently asked question I’ve heard during all three of my pregnancies. I’m sure the same is true for most women. Everyone from close family and friends to strangers you meet in the checkout line want to know: when are you due? 

Having a general idea of when you can expect to have a baby is fine, but it gets pretty frustrating when you reach your “due date” and are still pregnant. Especially when you pass that date.

Well, I am at that point now. And I am tired of people acting as though it is an awful ordeal to be pregnant past my due date. Maybe I’m weird, but I am totally fine still having the baby inside instead of in my arms. Not that I don’t want to meet my baby, because I definitely do. I can’t wait to meet this new addition to our little family. However, I realize that a due date isn’t set in stone, it isn’t usually accurate, and a baby will come when a baby is ready. Unless you force it. The worst part of this very end of pregnancy isn’t the largeness, the heat (I hope I am never extremely pregnant in July again!), or the fact that I cannot sleep without pillows propping up my belly. Or even the brutal rounds of contractions I’ve had for the last month. The worst part is the pitying looks or comments when someone knows this baby is “late.” And pointing out the obvious with a question: so… no baby yet? 

People, it’s not late!

I wish we could just do away with due dates. Maybe it should be an estimated birth month instead. Or, in my case, an estimated birth window of late June/early July.

Let me tell you a little bit about due dates and why we really need to stop treating the calendar as our ultimate authority.

First, every baby is different. Just like no two people develop at the same pace, so no two babies develop at the exact same pace. The 40 weeks of gestation time is an estimate. Some babies arrive sooner, most babies arrive later. If a healthy mother is allowed to go into labor on her own, with no induction forced on her, the average length of pregnancy is 42 weeks and a couple days. If you think about it, when doctors induce at 40 weeks, or even 41 weeks, they are inducing many babies who are not ready to be born.

Second, the pregnancy calendar wheel is inherently flawed. All pregnancy wheel charts that determine when a woman’s official due date is are based on a fertility cycle of 28 days, with ovulation occurring 14 days after the beginning of the menstrual cycle. I’ll give you one guess as to why this is a problem. Yep, you got it. No two women are the same. Imagine that! And because no two women are the same, there is a large range of when conception actually occurs. Some women have closer to 20-day cycles, and some women have close to 40-day cycles. That is a big difference, and a huge range of possible conception dates. Also, menstrual cycles begin roughly 12-16 days after ovulation, so the ovulating-on-day-14 idea is fundamentally flawed as well. Even if the 40-week gestation was correct for every single baby, the simple fact that the actual date conception can vary between women so drastically would throw off the dates by a couple weeks either way!

So, if you are pregnant or know someone else who is, don’t get caught up in the dates! They are always an estimate, and just because a woman is past her due date doesn’t mean something is wrong with the baby or the woman. Your body knows what it’s doing. Take care of it with healthy food and exercise, and tell everyone your due date is two weeks later than it actually is. That’s what I’m considering doing next time!

References:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon et al.

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As I write this, I am one day away from my “golden date,” which means that I am one day away from being 37 weeks pregnant.  Why is that date so important to me? At exactly 37 weeks, I am “allowed” to have my baby at home with my wonderful midwife, rather than in the hospital with a staff that isn’t too fond of home birthers.

Last night, though, we had a bit of a scare. I had contractions all day. They were big, strong, and pushed down on my pelvis. Nothing I did to slow them down had much of an impact for long. Even after I went to bed I woke up probably 10-15 times with them. It was a rough night because I did not want to go to the hospital simply because I was two days before my magic date. Now, if there was something wrong with the baby, then that would be a different story and I’d have no problem going to the hospital if needed. But if I had to go just to satisfy a law that set an arbitrary day as safe, based on an estimated due date, then I would have been pretty upset.

Thankfully, the contractions didn’t morph into labor last night, so I am safe – for now.  Just make it to midnight tonight, little baby, then feel free to come whenever you decide you’re ready! …well, as long as it’s not more than two weeks after your “due date” because then we’d have to deal with more drama, but then about you being “late.”

Anyway, last night’s excitement got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, other pregnant mothers may have trouble with contracting too much, too early. I start contracting fairly early in my pregnancies, so have a lot of experience with slowing down unwanted contractions.

I’d like to share some tips on what usually helps my body calm down when my contractions start to cause concern.

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COMMON CAUSES

First, it may be a good idea to go over a few common factors that can bring on contractions (or what feels like cramping early in pregnancy).

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Dehydration

Lack of water is probably the most common cause of non-labor contractions. This is easily fixed by drinking several glasses of water or Red Raspberry Infusion. If you have chronic contraction problems then upping water intake throughout the day will help.

Stress

Large amounts of stress can start contractions. The best thing to do in this case is to relax and try to remove or resolve the cause of your anxiety.

Overexertion

Overdoing it is one of my main causes of contractions. If possible, the best thing to do is stop. Take it easy. Just lie down or take a warm bath and let your body recover. Also, try to avoid lifting heavy objects or doing too many physical activities in one day. Many times, if you overdo it one day, the next day is when your body pays for it.

(I am preaching to myself here. During my second pregnancy we lived on the third floor and had almost no furniture. When my nesting instincts kicked in, I went crazy trying to get the place ready. By far my most dim-witted idea was to drag two large dressers and a bookshelf up to our third-floor apartment while my husband was at work. So there I was, eight months pregnant, trying to pull these solid wood monstrosities up three flights of stairs all alone. I finally realized that I was being an idiot, and found a kind maintenance man in the apartment office to take them the rest of the way. Of course, that little venture took me quite a while to recover from.)

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MY CONTRACTION REMEDIES

Now that I’ve gone over a few causes of contractions, I’ll list my personal remedies for contractions that just won’t stop. As always, check with your midwife or doctor first before using any new herbs or tinctures.

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Rest and Relaxation

Yep, I said it before, but this is important. If your body is stressed, overexerted, or simply worn out from the day, this is the first thing you want to do. Either lay down or take a bath. Let your body recover. My favorite is taking a warm, candlelit bath with one or all of the following remedies:

Red Raspberry Leaf Infusion

As I have mentioned before, red raspberry leaf is arguably the herb for women’s reproductive health. It strengthens the uterus and packed with vital nutrients for childbearing years. Taking a large glass or two of this infusion will help reduce contractions. If dehydrated, it will hydrate you, and the vitamins will help make your contractions productive. Meaning, if your contractions aren’t doing anything productive, such as bringing a baby into the world during labor, then red raspberry will help stop them.

Cramp Bark

Cramp bark is an amazing little remedy. It is generally used to relieve menstrual cramping. However, since it does so by reducing uterine contractions, it also helps reduce contractions during pregnancy. I have not come across any warnings about its use, except an unverified caution against using it if you are sensitive to aspirin.

The best way to take cramp bark is as a tincture. You can easily find this at a health food store. Just drop the recommended dose into a large glass of water. I find the taste pleasant, but if you don’t care for it, put it into just a little water and take it like a shot.

St. John’s Wort

This is another herb that works best as a tincture. By the way, if you don’t know what a tincture is, it is a concentrated liquid of an herb. Each one comes in a small bottle with a dropper. Doses are generally measured by counting how many drops you add to your water or tea. St. John’s Wort is most frequently used to treat depression. It calms and uplifts a person’s mind, which is perfect if you’re experiencing contractions brought on by stress or anxiety.

Red Wine

Okay, so I hesitated to add this to the list… wait, no, that’s not true. I briefly considered hesitating to add this, but that didn’t last long.

Now, I know that alcohol of any kind is decried for pregnant women because of fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s quite a touchy subject here in the U.S. In fact, during my first pregnancy a nurse told me that any amount at any time during pregnancy could cause serious damage. But then she also told me not to worry about any alcohol I’d consumed early on before I knew I was pregnant because it wouldn’t harm the baby. And yet during those first couple months is when the baby is at highest risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Make sense to you? Me neither.

Anyway, wine has long been used medicinally, even during pregnancy, and is still consumed in other developed countries by pregnant women. I personally view it as much safer than any prescribed drugs that could stop early labor, but that is between you and your own care provider. I’ll just share what I’ve found to help.

I personally only use red wine as a last resort, and only in the second half of pregnancy. When the chance of miscarriage and developing birth defects is high, as it is in the first trimester, I don’t touch the stuff. However, if none of the previous remedies have lessened my contractions and I truly am concerned about going into early labor, I drink a very small glass of wine – roughly a quarter of a glass – with bready food (I’m a lightweight, so don’t feel comfortable having more than that). The wine helps relax muscles, including uterine muscles. It also reduces any stress or anxiety that could be causing contractions. When all else has failed, there have been a few times when that little glass of wine finally stops the contractions or cramping.

Remember, whether it’s alcohol or caffeine or sugar, whatever you consume your baby does as well. And your baby feels it more than you do. So, if you feel lightheaded from any wine because you had too much or took it on an empty stomach, then your baby is probably reeling inside.

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So, there you have it. A few tips or ideas that may help you lessen contractions, especially ones that could easily turn into preterm labor.

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Please remember that I am not a doctor, midwife, or scientist. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned, what I’ve used, and what helps me and other women I’ve talked to. All of these mentioned have been suggested to me by a midwife or doctor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each one is good for you as well.

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