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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 8810 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 8810 records:

Twin births make things slightly out of the norm, so they are not included in the chart. This excludes 85 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 268 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
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Recent Comments

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you are invited to join our pregnancy forum. We are dedicated to answering complicated questions as logically as we possibly can.

the worst first birthday invite ever

Mon Apr 27 7:36 PM by jen4knits in Pregnancy & Parenting

Wow. I kinda get the trying to request gifts that you know you'll use with your kid, but I think these parents missed the point that gifts are just that, gifts. No one is required to buy your kid anything and telling people full out "we don't keep anything you give us and return it all" is rude in my mind. My mom always taught me to smile and say thank you, regardless of the gift as the person giving it to you thought you'd appreciate it. (Granted I know some people are terrible shoppers for others-still). I don't understand why if you are trying to keep things to a "2 gift max" per family unit, but then wouldn't it be the gift givers choice on what those 2 things are? Then they can feel it's not just a transfer of goods and they can feel like the gift actually matters.


The responsibility of choosing a name

Wed Apr 8 11:32 PM by Cglas in Pregnancy & Parenting

Spouse and I have two main rules: family name and not Biblical. Fortunately we have big families with lots of cool names available.

I have the additional stipulations of not having two people in the same house with the same name (i.e. Jr.) and that really unusual names should be middle names. Spouse's family has the tradition of naming the first son after the father, but since Spouse has a super-Biblical name I've not had to fight too hard to keep him from naming his son after himself. I was named after my dad's mom so we had the same first and last name in the same town and that caused some problems (which, admittedly, were quickly solved by our 70-year difference in ages). But I can't imagine having two "Spouse"s at one address.

Spouse's family has quite a few Anglicized Polish names, and Spouse wants to revive the pre-immigration names, which I'm fine with but would prefer them as middle names: Cunegunda and Waslav are a lifetime of "What? How do you spell that? Where is that from? Did your parents make that up?" If the kid really wants to use it, which would be cool, they can always choose to use their middle name.


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.


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.


name trends

Wed Jan 28 8:58 AM by Lemon in Pregnancy & Parenting

Some of my family members who work in the healthcare system have overheard some doozies.

I work in healthcare, so I can relate. I think my favourite was a kid called "Abcde" which we were assured was pronounced "Abasidee". Mirena was a cute choice, named after the contraceptive device. Then there have been some good narrative names including places of birth - e.g. "Shell" (after the baby born in a petrol station carpark) - and places of conception - e.g. "...(a suburb which I'll keep secret - just in case this somehow breaches some poor kid's privacy) bus stop."


Can't find my tribe

Mon Apr 27 7:25 PM by jen4knits in Pregnancy & Parenting

We are expecting our first and I have definitely started noticing the "boys will be boys" and "girls like pink" crap that is out there. I said to my husband the other day how sad it is I'm glad our first child is a boy because it will be easier to promote our science/math/computer mindset without too much headache with family. Granted if this little one happens to turn out to be a girl then well she'll get the same up bringing we're planing for "Junior". Or if "Junior" wants to be a ballerina we'll be perfectly fine with that. I am fortunate that my mom and the important people of my side of the family don't give two flying flips if he has a doll or learns tap dancing or whatever. My hubby's family might be a little harder to get to accept things, but with the latest drama we won't have to deal with most of them once kiddo comes to being.

I do agree the best thing to do is try and speak up when needed, but of course that's easier said than done. Good luck as I have yet to find any close friends that I can relate to with this type of thing, which I also find sad.


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).


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.


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.


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.???


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.


It takes 13 million calories to raise a child!

Sun Mar 15 6:33 PM by Metcodon1 in Pregnancy & Parenting

Child care is BEYOND insanely expensive... When my husband and I were deciding to to have children we agreed to both go part time (4 days a week) in order to make our lives easier (we both make more than we would pay for day care, so we did take a financial hit with this decision). For example, whoever is home on a given day can throw in some laundry, or some food into the slow cooker, run errands... All of these things multiply in number once you have kids at the same time becoming more difficult to schedule. Unfortunately, when my daughter was around 1 my work situation changed and I had to go full time... let me tell you, it was definitely easier when I wasn't.

Anyway, the point I am getting to here is, when kids are little they require a lot of attention and sometimes (often?) some career sacrifice but it's TEMPORARY. When we decided to get pregnant we agreed that we would both slow down career wise for 5 years. For us it means, we do our jobs, we come home. We don't sign up for extra projects, we try to limit our travel, but it's all just for now. We also decided to have our kids close together for that reason (they'll be 2 years apart). Anyway, it's something to keep in mind. An 8 year old goes to school and doesn't need constant monitoring to keep from killing him/herself. It's ok to decide to slow down for a period of time, knowing that you'll come roaring back once they're older.


Because judging other parents is absurd.

Tue Feb 3 7:05 AM by Zeph in Pregnancy & Parenting

It's alright to discuss these topics, but there needs to be boundaries. I would use the following, personally:

1. Don't insert yourself into a stranger's situation or bring up the topic yourself to a stranger.
2. It's probably not your business if you're not a parent yourself.
3. Ask the person why they are making these choices, don't assume.
4. Try to end on a positive note.

I don't feel right bringing up to my sister that I don't agree that she spanks my nephew, but after being a teacher, I am pretty forgiving of parents' choices. It's the hardest role there is. Even though I want to raise my children on nutritious meals, cloth diapers, and museum passes, I know I'm going to slip up and give them fries, Huggies, and Disney DVD's.

I also feel that home birth is a fine option for low-risk births, where the mother is well coached and the midwife is reputable. If you live near a hospital and your midwife is highly qualified, why not? They have equipment. I won't be choosing this option, but with any birth plan there needs to be a series of precautions taken.


sleep humor

Fri Jan 23 7:13 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

Here's a really funny humor bit about sleep, but the same general idea can apply to pretty much any "advice" given to new parents.

"I bought all the top books on baby sleep and development. I read through them all, as well as several blogs and sleep websites. I gathered lots of advice:"

https://chimericalcapuchin.wordpress.co ... babybooks/