spacefem.com

Due date statistics: A study on the length of pregnancy

[ Survey Results Intro | All Charts | Take the survey ]

Do babies come on their due dates?

This was the question on my mind during the later stages on my pregnancy in the spring of 2010. I heard a lot of conflicting information about what a "due date" meant and when babies were born. Some people saw the "due date" like a deadline... if the baby hasn't arrived yet, it's late, it's time to freak out. Some people said due dates were a bad example of western intervention, used by doctors as an excuse to cut us all open. Some people said that first time moms should expect to go late, it's normal and you should chill out. I found some scattered statistics about what week babies came... and a lot of those graphs just said "X% were born at 40 weeks" but didn't explain what that meant (during the 40th week of pregnancy? 40 weeks accomplished? On day 280?). And trust me if you're pregnant, you start counting DAYS when that time comes around. There is a huge difference between 40 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 5 days.

I was unable to find great data that satisfied me. So, armed, with a website, I started running a simple survey about due dates. If you've had a baby, please take it!

So far the survey has had 8988 participants, and I've put together these pages of charts that show interesting things I've learned from the results. I am not a mathematician, so there's no in-depth statistical analysis. I'm an engineer, web programmer, and (as of 2010) mom. When I started the survey I was just a very very pregnant woman wondering when my baby was going to show up.

This first intro page is all about the methods used and why I think it's valid. If you don't care about the background, just want to see the dang averages, skip to this page or pick one of these:

Due date statistics: A study on the length of pregnancy
Probability of delivery resulting from spontaneous labor after 35 weeks
Probability of delivery within x days of a given date
Length of pregnancy by week
Spontaneous labor and due date determination
Length of pregnancy, comparing subsequent births for individual moms
Length of pregnancy for first time vs. second & third time moms
Length of pregnancy, type of delivery
Gestation vs. Birthweight
Probablity of Induction after a given day
Average day of spontaneous labor vs. age of mother at time of birth
Are more babies born during a full moon?
What's the most common day of the week for babies to be born?
I'm still pregnant at 40W. What's it mean?
Do winter babies arrive later?
What if I know my conception date?
Are boys or girls born later?
Subsequent pregnancy date search
How do inductions bias the due date statistics?
Birth Stories
Survey input dates

For reference, here's the very basic plot of who took the survey:

Other data

I was unable to find daily breakdowns of when births occur, but there have been other studies about due date accuracy. I think the data is hard to find because the medical community has accepted the fact that it's impossible to exactly predict when a baby will show up, so they're okay with just knowing about when it happens, and us pregnant women are also urged to be okay with just knowing about when it will happen. But if you're a geek like me who loves statistics, that's tough.

All these studies describe the length of pregnancy in days. For reference, 280 days = 40 weeks = 9 months 6 days.

The length of human pregnancy as calculated by ultrasonographic measurement of the fetal biparietal diameter (H. Kieler, O. Axelsson, S. Nilsson, U. Waldenströ) has a very nice table of 10 published studies, which found various means between 272-283 days. The authors contribute their own results as well, recording over 800 mothers who went into labor spontaneously. When pregnancy length was calculated using ultrasound in the second trimester the mean was 280.6 days, standard deviation 9.7 days. When it was calculated using LMP, the mean was 283.6 days with a standard deviation of 10.5 days.

A study from the Swedish birth registry involving 427,582 singleton pregnancies the mean, median and modal durations of pregnancies were 281, 282 and 283 days respectively. The standard deviation was 13 days. This study did not consider whether labor was medically induced or not. (Duration of human singleton pregnancy—a population-based study, Bergsjφ P, Denman DW, Hoffman HJ, Meirik O.)

A 1999 study of over 17,000 spontaneous deliveries stated that due dates are more accurate if we add 282 days to LMP instead of 280 (Evaluation of ultrasound-estimated date of delivery in 17,450 spontaneous singleton births: do we need to modify Naegele's rule? Nguyen TH, Larsen T, Engholm G, Møller H.)

A 2003 London-based study of over 122,000 pregnancies with spontaneous onset of labor (except they call it "labour" because, well, you know) found that average gestational age at delivery was 40 weeks for white Europeans but only 39 weeks for members of the black and asian ethnic groups. I chose not to ask for ethnicity or race in my survey because it's so hard to define, so many people are a combination of races, but the study is interesting. Another note: it was made up entirely of first time ("nulliparous") mothers. (International Journal of Epidemiology 2003;33:107–113 Roshni R Patel,Philip Steer,Pat Doyle,Mark P Littleand Paul Elliott)

And finally there's this 1990 Harvard study called The length of uncomplicated human gestation (Mittendorf et al). The study looked at 31 first-time moms at one private practice to conclude that their average due date was eight days early. That's not a very big sample size, which I think is why it's the only study that found 288 days as the median. I really wish people would stop bringing it up, but it seems to be popular so I'll just say if you want to read it and come to your own conclusions, it's here.

Come on people, if 288 days was really the median that means that more than half of all pregnancies would end past 41 weeks... seems like we would have noticed something like that by now.

There is good weekly data from the CDC that talks about birthweight and weight gain and inductions and all kinds of good stuff. But it's not the daily breakdown I wanted, and it doesn't break down weekly stats by whether the births were spontaneous or induced.

Does your survey consider age, race, cycle length, shoe sizes, ferret ownership, etc?

It became apparent to me by reading studies that no matter what factor people added into consideration, it was still impossible to predict the start of labor. Even IVF patients, who know the HOUR their baby was created, don't get accurate due dates. So I see no point in taking all these factors into consideration, if it's going to be a range of dates lets just all throw whatever randomness we have into the pot and see what the range is. Several studies and my survey have found that there's a standard deviation of over a week... this makes the bell curve pretty flat on top. Moving a due date a day up or back based on ovulation really makes no difference because all the dates around 40W are almost equal in terms of your probability of going into labor.

You realize that an internet survey isn't exactly scientific, right? It's going to be so biased!

Science wasn't really my goal. By that I mean I'm not terribly interested in how the human body works... I'm interested in how life is for women like me. The women who are reading this and visiting my website are mostly internet users from english-speaking countries... well, so are my survey participants. I see that as a good thing.

That said, even if it's not scientific the fact that the results are matching real scientific studies mean that I must be doing something right. The studies mentioned a few paragraphs above here seem to support the fact that the 280 day mean, 9-10 day standard deviation is the norm... well that's what my results show too. I think if the big numbers about the curves are correct than the little details are likely to be correct also.

Where does "40 weeks" come from?

The most common way to calculate a due date is to set it at 40 weeks (280 days) past the woman's last menstrual period. This is known as Naegele's Rule, after a German doctor who published the method in 1806. Naegele did not arrive at this method very scientifically, but I personally believe that we would not be using it if it was totally off.

Did you consider that augmenting labor can change the birth date?

No. Because I don't care that much. Most augmentations can only change things by one day, if that. I also feel like I would have had to consider the whole range of things... there's the doctor that starts Pitocin when a woman is at 3cm and there's the doctor who's completely hands off until reaching for the foreceps at the end. Both of them decreased labor time and might have change the day a baby was born, but to very different degrees. And anyway, my goal was to tell women who know nothing when they might have a baby, since most of these dates are totally a surprise. When you're very pregnant, there's no way to tell when labor will begin and you go looking for internet charts. When you're in active labor, there aren't as many questions in your mind.

Who cares what's normal? Shouldn't we just tell ourselves to accept whatever happens or be patient?

Yes and no.

On one hand, I think it's a good idea to spread the word that pregnancy does indeed usually last 40 weeks, and if a woman is 37 weeks pregnant it's not only scientifically inaccurate to tell her she's "about to pop", it's also really annoying.

On the other hand, I've seen this survey discussed with comments like, "Well obviously a bunch of women had babies past 42 weeks, this shows that we should just be happy being pregnant forever, fight those inductions, trust nature." That's a risky assessment. There is significant evidence that health risks to babies increase as pregnancy approaches 42 weeks (Fetal and perinatal mortality, United States, 2005 by MacDorman et al. is one from the CDC). I think nature is sort of a good thing to trust. Yes, it got the human race this far. Yes, I had a natural birth and recommend it. But for thousands of years 1 in 10 births didn't end well... nature was happy with the 90% batting average. But we can do better. So from that standpoint I'd prefer that you avoid using this study to tell your doctor that you intend to be 43 weeks pregnant. Deal?

What results are included in the charts?

I decided to only include births between & including days 245 (35W,0D) and 301 (43W,0D). This means that out of the 8988 records:

Twin births make things slightly out of the norm, so they are not included in the chart. This excludes 86 results. I didn't really ask good survey questions for twins anyway. If you are pregnant with twins and looking for data, there's a good survey going over here.

In addition, around 200 results I started noticing a big spike in the number of babies born on their due date. I believe this is because women who have their babies on their due dates are more likely to remember it, and be enthusiastic about taking a survey. To account for this I've capped the number of results shown at exactly 40 W, and 273 results are excluded.

Due Date Survey Data

Due date statistics: A study on the length of pregnancy
Probability of delivery resulting from spontaneous labor after 35 weeks
Probability of delivery within x days of a given date
Length of pregnancy by week
Spontaneous labor and due date determination
Length of pregnancy, comparing subsequent births for individual moms
Length of pregnancy for first time vs. second & third time moms
Length of pregnancy, type of delivery
Gestation vs. Birthweight
Probablity of Induction after a given day
Average day of spontaneous labor vs. age of mother at time of birth
Are more babies born during a full moon?
What's the most common day of the week for babies to be born?
I'm still pregnant at 40W. What's it mean?
Do winter babies arrive later?
What if I know my conception date?
Are boys or girls born later?
Subsequent pregnancy date search
How do inductions bias the due date statistics?
Birth Stories
Survey input dates

More Resources

Pregnancy Day-by-Day
Fast pregnancy calendar
Baby age calendar
EDD Icon Generator
Jo's Birth Story
Weeks vs. Months Explained
Charts generated by flot
spacefem.com
spacefem@spacefem.com

Recent Comments

For more support, encouragement, Q&A,
you are invited to join our pregnancy forum. We are dedicated to answering complicated questions as logically as we possibly can.

cosleeping

Sat May 30 3:37 AM by Sassquatch in Pregnancy & Parenting

I had no desire to cosleep but would up with a screaming monkey unless he was on a person. He spent his fourth trimester (I was a skeptic before) literally sleeping on my chest. But also, he did not sleep. It totalled about six or seven hours a day in chunks of no more than an hour. So I was pretty literally going crazy and would do anything for sleep.

It made me nervous the whole time! I gradually moved him off me to my mattress, to a sidecarred crib, to a crib, and finally to his own room around two. I would have done it earlier but the place I live isn't well designed and his room is super cold.


getting along while doing things differently

Wed May 20 9:11 AM by Gnarlbanya in Pregnancy & Parenting

I'm finding it interesting that some people I've encountered (online) presume that if they know one of your pregnancy or parenting preferences or opinions, they can extrapolate them all. For example, in discussing pain relief options recently, after expressing my desire not to have an epidural it was also assumed that I would forego vaccinations for my child and would be automatically pro home VBAC. When I made it clear that this wasn't the case, people were more annoyed than they would have been had I just said I wanted an epidural. There seems to be a really odd sort of tribalism around many of these choices, and a strange playground mentality whereby you can't deviate from the 'norm' (made harder to navigate because different groups have very different norms). For me, my preference to go without an epidural is not out of any desire to have a more natural experience but more because I want to be able to walk around and I find the idea of having a catheter just horrible. That doesn't mean that I judge anyone else's choices or motives that differ from mine, though. I do think it's worth remembering that people may make identical choices for very different reasons.


the worst first birthday invite ever

Wed Apr 29 7:52 PM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

the understanding that when people buy gifts, it's their way of saying "hey, this says something about me, I want your kid to have it because we have a relationship." two ways.

Except sometimes those gifts are inappropriate. Part of me feels a lot of sympathy for these parents because what can I do with gifted clothing that is already too small for my kid except pass them on? What can I do with gifts that conflict with my personal beliefs, like a racist book that I don't want to inflict on anyone else either?


Tips and pitfalls for gender-neutral parenting

Mon Mar 30 9:25 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

^I agree with that! :)

Part of "gender neutral" parenting is supplying the side of things that doesn't get given by other people.


How did you decide how many kids to have?

Fri Feb 27 2:42 AM by MFS in Pregnancy & Parenting

First 2 were on purpose, 3rd kinda not so much, 4th was totally an oops (when you think things are broken, they have this habit of fixing themselves). Made sure we were done after that. Aside from that, we knew we'd have at least 2, likely 3, but the timing was not at all what we thought we were "planning". Such is life.


if you need to breastfeed, please cover yourself

Fri May 29 3:43 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

word to the wise though about summer babies - boob sunburn!!
Ok, THAT is a valid reason to cover up. Ouch!!!


Can't find my tribe

Sat May 9 9:25 PM by Nedra in Pregnancy & Parenting

We've found relatively like-minded parents in the following ways:

-We went to undergrad at a liberal arts college and most of our alumni friends live in town still.
-I worked for 5 years at a charter school that was "girl-focused" (meaning, it was a girls school and any student who identified as a girl -- either biologically or socially -- could attend as long as they were cool with being part of a community of girls). Deconstructing sexism, heterosexism and racism was part of our mission and so the staff was very like-minded in this regard.

That's where virtually all my local, like-minded parents came from. Our church is pretty open-minded too. I don't know that I've ever seen a boy in a dress there, but I can't really imagine anyone batting an eye if we did. Certainly lots of boys playing with dolls and girls with trucks in the nursery.

When my own parents were in this position, they started a "non-sexist parenting group." Basically, they found ONE family who felt the same way, that family knew another, etc. They built a community intentionally by voicing out loud that that was what they wanted and spreading the word. They also found a lot of like-minded people through church. We are hippy-church and hippy-daycare/school people, so that helps.


Bilingual Babies

Mon Apr 13 11:41 AM by sakooon in Pregnancy & Parenting

Spacefem's husband no longer speaking Spanish and Nachos no longer speaking Dutch, I think are great examples of lacking motivation. Likewise, I had mentioned that my kid is unlikely to pick up Swedish, despite 10% of the population being native Swedish speakers, Swedish being one of the offical languages and therefore alongside Finnish everywhere, and having a Swedish speaking uncle.???


Interacting with parents whose choices you don't trust

Thu Mar 26 3:08 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

How can you tell who has been vaccinated or not?
That's the tricky part, you can't really. So unless the parents say something you never actually know.


Bonding

Fri Feb 6 4:35 AM by Zeph in Pregnancy & Parenting

Bonding with my future infant is a concern of mine, because my depression is debilitating. I'm relieved to know that normally functioning women don't feel that head-over-heels mushy baby love.


Flying during third trimester

Wed May 27 2:03 AM by ablotial in Pregnancy & Parenting

Thanks, I love the part about not being able to lower the tray table all the way :) I never would have thought of that.

Normally, my doctor said not to do aspirin or ibuprofen for pain relief, but only tylenol (acetemenophen) and even that only if -absolutely- needed after trying other remedies (like heat pack, cold pack, resting with lights closed eyes shut, etc). But the directions for flying specifically say to take one baby aspirin (81mg) a day for three days before the flight as well as the day of the flight to prevent blood clots. My guess is the risk of such a small dose is outweighed by the benefit of not getting blood clots for this particular situation.


The responsibility of choosing a name

Wed Apr 29 8:02 PM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

I fretted way too much about this.

Finland is one of the countries in the world with an approved name list. People can deviate from the list, but then they need to participate in bureacracy. Foreigners often get approval for names from their home culture, but as someone from the U.S., I'm not sure how straightforward it is to say "this cultural name appropriately represents my culture". Do I pick the cultures of my ancestors or modern U.S. conglomeration?

We went with approved names, but not the Swedish ones because my spouse felt weird giving a Swedish name without Swedish heritage. The Swedish names would have been most easily recognizable for my family.

Our main criteria ended up including:
Finnish
I could pronounce it
we didn't hate the way Americans would pronounce it

We had to eliminate one contender because I sometimes mispronounced it, turning the name into a word that meant "failure".


Advice for non-parents?

Tue Apr 7 8:56 PM by Nedra in Pregnancy & Parenting

I definitely agree on the flexibility of where to meet. It makes a huge difference when you aren't stressed about your kid in a public place. Recently, I went to a tea shop with my daughter. Not only was the layout of the seating area very conducive to letting a toddler walk around a bit while still keeping a close eye on her, but there was plenty of room for my stroller and plenty of available tables. That is rare! It wasn't a huge space, but it was just laid out well for what we needed. I will definitely be suggesting it the next time a friend asks if we can get together. Let your parent friends choose the location! They know which places have changing tables and room to park a stroller.


How Good Parents Miss Child Sexual Abuse and 5 Questions to Change That

Tue Mar 24 3:20 AM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

And that includes parents too - I try to always ask "can I have a hug/kiss" rather than "give me a hug/kiss" and that she can always always say no if she doesn't want to, even with me. (She's old enough now that I've had enough practice that even writing "give me a hug" sounds weird to me)

Also I think on a more general level it's good to practice asking these kinds of questions anyway. Not just for abuse, but in general if you want to know what's going on in their life. Asking "how was school" gets an "I dunno" even now, but asking more specific things like "What was something funny that happened today" or "What did you do at recess?" really gets her talking more. Not sure where I read that, but the kinds of questions above made me think that sometimes just asking a better question will help get at what you want to know more than asking generalities.

The other thing is definitely definitely not making judgment on those things that they're saying. Instead try "What did you think about that ?" or "What did you do when happened?" "What would make you feel safe?" "What could you try if that happens again?" "Is there anything you'd like me to do?" These are things that I've asked wrt other kids on the playground (pushing etc) but I think it's the same idea in terms of empowering the child to talk about things that happen and letting them help come to the conclusions. Which isn't to say you can't help them get there by suggesting actions they could do, etc, just that if you get them talking about things that happen on a daily basis then if something weird happens then they'll likely be more comfortable telling you, especially if you've already shown them what boundaries there are and respecting those boundaries (like not tickling if they say they don't want to be tickled etc).


34 Weeks

Fri Jan 23 11:57 PM by Sonic# in Pregnancy & Parenting

Probably not. As we pointed out in the other topic, 34 weeks isn't even on the chart because it's so rare:
http://spacefem.com/pregnant/charts/duedate1.php

You'd be better off worrying over a car accident.