Due date statistics: A study on the length of pregnancy

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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 12566 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 12566 records:

Twin births make things slightly out of the norm, so they are not included in the chart. This excludes 102 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 281 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
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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.

What did I just say?

Wed Mar 15 12:25 PM by mariareese in Pregnancy & Parenting

Looking to know about the system and biology :D hehe ..


Activities for 1-3 yo's

Sat Jan 14 7:07 PM by antfancier in Pregnancy & Parenting

I find theimaginationtree.com has lots of inspiring ideas. Some look like they take quite a bit of prep, but if you're doing it for a whole class then it might be worth it. You can sort activities by age as well so it's easier to search.


Academic redshirting

Wed Dec 7 8:22 PM by Nachos in Pregnancy & Parenting

I'm on the fence about this. I was always the youngest in my class because I was born 2 days before the cut off. I started school JUST after my 5th birthday (Go England.... not...) and this made a huge gap between me and the oldest kids in the class who were almost a whole year older. However, even though I might have struggled more then I'm ok now, you know? It might have even been helpful for me, pushing myself to learn more and try and be smarter. My sister was held back for a year in preschool in Germany because she didn't speak German well enough for the first grade and so she has always been the oldest in class and she's not really as academic as me. This is all anecdata of course, but interesting to ponder over.


kids' obsessions

Sat Oct 15 8:08 PM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

I could see saunas becoming an obsession for a number of very social reasons as well, depending on your family's sauna practices. I honestly can't think of any common themes or rituals shared by all branches of my U.S. family, other than like eating together, but that seems too banal(/essential for survival) to really become an obsession. My Finnish family, on the other hand, all sauna as a social ritual. Whether or not you allow your kid in saunas yet, if there's a lot of exposure to the ritual, they could probably pick up on the social importance. It might make sense that kids are probably wired to pick up on things that the adults in their life think are important (**not a child psychologist**).
<...> I know I was super into the instant evaporation of water and associated *hissssss* the first time I was in a sauna at like age seven.
This is an excellent point. And although I know they exist, I haven't encountered any Finns who don't like sauna. There are a lot of steps to it. The kid gets to help their grandfather build the fire when we're together, knows that wood burning saunas are better than electric saunas, and absolutely loves the sound of the water hitting the hot stones. I can't imitate the sound as well as the kid does.


Don't give your kids antidepressants.

Thu Sep 15 9:13 PM by Nachos in Pregnancy & Parenting

Mental health issues will never start to hurt, therefore no preemptive treatment is needed.

Mental health issues hurt, take it from me. There are many psychosomatic disorders out there which affect your body even though the real problem is in your mind. But to get better, you HAVE to treat both. Pre-emptive treatment also can stop some disorders from becoming too bad. And yes, sometimes drugs can be very very helpful.

I don't think you know what you're talking about and all this "I know because of divine intuition" bullshit is starting to piss me off. if you ask others for sources, be kind enough to provide some yourself.

If this thread continues to be shit-slinging, I will lock it.


stuffed animals

Thu Feb 23 1:20 AM by antfancier in Pregnancy & Parenting

My brother's favorite stuffed animal was a thing we called 'gerbil'. I actually don't know what it was because we found it in the street (not sure what my mum was thinking in allowing him to pick it up, let alone keep it) and it had already lost an eye and was unidentifiable, but he became really attached to it. We almost missed a flight once because he dropped it in the airport and we had to go back to look for it.

Today for the first time my 11month old showed interest in a stuffed animal. Just before Christmas we received a box from Amazon with a giant bear inside. No gift wrap, no note. Just a bear the size of my child. It's been sat in his room and ignored completely, despite him exploring literally everything else that is in there. Then, out of the blue, he made a beeline for it and tried to pull its eyes out.


tactile stuff

Wed Jan 4 6:14 AM by Neko in Pregnancy & Parenting

All the pliable/crafty stuff I can think of has been mentioned. ETA: I lied. Bread dough!

But if generally tactile surfaces also apply, mermaid sequin pillows are comforting. It was one of my impulse buys at a department store about a month ago. I couldn't stop petting the display. The sequined side seemed like it wouldn't be comfortable to rest on but it hasn't been an issue. My stepdad really likes them so I got him one for giftmas and he said it helps distract him when chronic pain keeps him awake at night. https://www.etsy.com/listing/470423508/ ... _active_40

I haven't field tested them on my nieces and nephews yet. That could be fun.


protective restrictions for children

Tue Dec 6 10:08 PM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

The Wolfpack, a documentary about six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a manhattan housing project. all they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world. The film is coming from the bias that the parents have wronged their children. We're told that in the past they have left the apartment, only as a group, and up to eight times a year. One year they didn't get out at all. It's unclear what the objective of these outings were. The film leaves a lot unanswered. We know they are homeschooled by their mother, who's a certified teacher, but what the homeschooling looked like is never examined. I can't help but think that these kids all around really healthy, charming, affectionate, considerate, welcoming, really only positive adjectives come to mind.


Sleep Training for Parents and Infants

Sat Oct 1 9:34 PM by antfancier in Pregnancy & Parenting

Thank you! I'm currently stuck under 20lbs of sleeping baby because all day time naps have to be in my arms or they don't happen.


learning to use a toilet

Sun Sep 11 2:33 PM by Angelica in Pregnancy & Parenting

My statement was meant to indicate that I'm not finished with my thoughts on this topic, rather than to create drama.

I believe parents in this world universally make a big mistake when it comes time to start thinking about their children using the toilet. Kids feel forced to do it, and this breeds resentment and damages their self-esteem. Having the father (the mother is needed in the battle against the patriarchy) stay home with the children and homeschool them while they haven't yet decided to train themselves is the way to avoid humiliation by their more-repressed peers.

I would also like to point out that limiting elimination to the toilet at any age creates situations where the person's health is compromised due to the lack of availability of a bathroom. In these situations, I strongly advise parents to let their children wear diapers no matter their age. Retention can lead to kidney stones, intestinal damage, urinary tract infections and harmful bacteria and toxins in the bloodstream.


New parent help/suggestions

Sat Jan 14 10:07 PM by antfancier in Pregnancy & Parenting

I agree with everything lyra211 said and will add a few more.

Things you don't need:
Anything soft, fluffy or furry. My baby couldn't care less about minky blankets and soft toys. Plus they seem more gross to clean when they get covered in bodily fluids.
Clothes that look like adult clothes. It's so difficult to squeeze baby thighs into miniature corduroys or denim jeans which have no give to the fabric.
Baby washcloths. Babies make a disproportionate amount of mess so you need adult size washcloths to clean them up.

Things that were super useful:
A folding changing mat. I have a SkipHop one which has enough storage for wipes and diapers, which was all I needed to carry with me when I had a newborn. Now that he's bigger, I appreciate the larger size of the mat because the one that came with my diaper bag is way too small.
Balls. They were the first thing he played with and still his favourite toys. At the beginning he liked one made by Oball which was easy to pick up, and a soft fabric one which made a crinkly noise. Now he loves throwing a soft rubber ball and watching it bounce.


development balalnce

Fri Dec 16 5:02 PM by rinn in Pregnancy & Parenting

I was proficient in fine/gross motor skills and cognitive development for my age, but I was further behind in speech/language development and social/emotional development. I caught up in them perhaps by ages 5-7, with vestiges of social issues lasting longer (like my temper). There was nothing inherently bad about being a bit off in timing, though in my case my imbalance was severe enough that I did need professional help from a speech pathologist.

....New social situations make me feel somewhat awkward, but I've also learned that many other people feel the same way about novel contexts, so I think I'm with the curve there.

geez, are you my twin, sonic? XD

I grew up with definite lag in speech/language development. I had a speech pathologist in elementary school work on my -L-'s, -r-'s and -th-'s; and when I essentially "graduated" from it I was taken out of the IEP program. my mom and I now see that being a mistake. middle school went decently, but I struggled in language arts; and by the time I went into high school I was struggling in my history/English humanities course and Algebra. I struggled in English classes because of my inability to express myself through language clearly, and I struggled in algebra because I couldn't follow a thing my teacher was saying (we had someone tutor me who literally asked why she was tutoring me because I grasped the concepts five minutes after her explaining it).


Parents Warned they Could Lose Custody of Fourteen-Year-Old Over This

Mon Nov 7 3:33 AM by garbage videos in Pregnancy & Parenting

It is wrong to lock horses in cages and breed them as if they are slaves.
I sincerely hope that you aren't condoning slavery with that implication that it isn't wrong to keep humans in cages and force them to "breed". It's probably just an unfortunate word choice.
I said it is wrong to put horses in cages and breed them as slaves. So I don't know how you read things. Frankly you are irritating me because I shouldn't have to explain how I said 2+2=4 when you are accusing me of saying 2+2=5. In this age people should have mastered how to read clearly and I shouldn't have to micromanage my text and clear what I have already layed out clearly for you.

To be fair, if the girl is a Female to Male transsexual, her hormones are not so important, at an old age Male hormones will mutate her body and have the same effect. But with boy's its more tragic and serious. Boys who want to be girls, must stop their toxic T at an early age, or else their face will be permanently ugly and bony


bringing children up naturist

Sat Sep 24 1:18 AM by filmmakingally in Pregnancy & Parenting

It's about teaching children to make love so that they do it themselves. Love has no age or genetic requirement. It's healthy for young siblings to make love, and it's unhealthy if they don't. Sexual repression of children fucks them up as adults. Because the parents are secretive about it, children get the idea that it's bad, which starts the process of sexual repression.

Gross. Yuck. Eww. I've run out of ways to express how disgusted I am with what you've said here. Ewwwwwww!!!!!!!

No, siblings should not make love. It is in our genetic interest that we don't do this. Ever. This is a cultural universal.


Middle grade / Beginning Chapter Books

Fri Sep 9 8:01 PM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

I think a big driver in getting them to read is to find stories that they like.
Definitely this. I once tutored a kid who had been held back twice in elementary school and was still a couple grade levels behind on reading skills. He was given a book from the Captain Underpants series because it was supposed to be at his reading level but he thought it was utterly stupid. I don't think we ever found books that both matched his reading level and maturity level, but once we started reading books better suited to his interests, it didn't matter that they were more difficult.

One of my cousins kids read the Warriors series and was really into it. She was bulllied in school, but I don't think it was instigated by her reading choices.

I don't know any recent books for this age group but I've heard great things about the Adventure Time comics.