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Women spend their whole pregnancy looking forward to the birth of their baby, and it's not really surprising that many start to get itchy when they get to about 38 weeks. We're told that it's healthy for a baby to make his or her appearance any time after 38. When are you overdue, and is that dangerous?

There is no doubt that many gynecologists/obstetricians are quick to induce labor when the mother reaches "full-term", often discussing the dangers of going overdue. It's true that an abnormally long gestational length increases the risk of stillbirth for a baby, but not until after 42 weeks. Still, it's best to be on the safe side and make sure your baby isn't exposed to those risks, right? Well, not exactly.

A recent study on gestational length and pregnancy outcomes warned about the dangers of elective induction before a woman is truly overdue not just past her due date or even only approaching it. The lead author, Uma M. Reddy from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development in Bethesda, MD, pointed out: "A truly elective delivery should wait until at least 39 weeks. We don't stop labor at 37 weeks, and the majority of babies will do fine." But if nothing is going on and you are doing well, waiting to 39 weeks is best for you and your baby. This, and other evidence, very much pushes us to critically examine the current obstetric practice of inducing labor for no apparent medical reason.

Of course, it is partly up to individual families who are expecting a baby to decide whether they prefer the risk of a premature baby, or the risks that come with being truly overdue. In the majority of cases, the body's natural timing works just fine. Our advice? Discuss the risks and benefits of inducing labor thoroughly before agreeing to be induced.

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