When your pregnant belly feels like it’s about to burst, every day that goes by past your due date feels like a lifetime. While your body is telling you it is absolutely time to give birth, your growing baby is disagreeing. Any pregnancy that lasts three weeks past the due date is considered a prolonged pregnancy. There are many risks associated with pregnancies that go beyond their due date, but the cause is still unknown.

One hypothesis about the cause of prolonged pregnancy is the premature separation of the placenta, also known as placental senility, but it has been ruled out by numerous studies. Another potential cause of prolonged pregnancy is less specific, and is not necessarily confirmed. Some studies have shown an association between previous pregnancies and prolonged second pregnancy. However, this is not reason enough for you to avoid having a second baby, since the research is not concrete.

The main health concern for prolonged pregnancy is the risk of stillbirth. For pregnant women who have surpassed their due date by three weeks, their risk of stillbirth more than doubles. Having a prolonged pregnancy can also put you at risk, as your baby will likely be larger than normal, and it might cause damage to your pelvic area. Luckily, if your baby has reached the age of three after a prolonged pregnancy, there have been no negative associations later in life.

Clearly, there is no definite way that you can prevent a prolonged pregnancy, and based on doctors’ current knowledge, it is simply luck of the draw. However, the best thing you can do is to stay healthy during your pregnancy and follow your health care provider’s advice. Avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising during your pregnancy are all ways to ensure a healthy birth.

Having a prolonged pregnancy is scary, but don’t panic if you’re past your due date. Many medical advances have made pregnancy safer than ever, so even if your risk for certain complications is high, there are many ways to prevent and treat them. If your doctor feels that your prolonged pregnancy is putting you and your baby at risk, he or she might suggest an induced labor. In the event of an induced labor, your doctor will give you medications that make the pregnancy begin immediately, and you will most likely give birth to a baby who is healthy – albeit stubborn.

Source: Gabrielle Stevens et al: Overdue Choices: How Information and Role in Decision-Making Influence Women's Preferences for Induction for Prolonged Pregnancy. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care June 2012