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 13477 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?
Download the data
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 13477 records:

Twin births make things slightly out of the norm, so they are not included in the chart. This excludes 105 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 282 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?
Download the data
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@spacefem.com

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.

leftist parenting and gender [split from gender recognition]

Sat Sep 23 11:52 AM by Unvoiced_Apollo in Pregnancy & Parenting


gender recognition.">



If a boy who has a penis asks if he's a boy and you don't just say yes, then that's straight up lunacy.



What he decides to do with that boyhood or how he dresses is up to him. But if you're born with a penis you're a boy.



Making it airy fairy when, statistically, scientifically, less than 1% of 1% of children born have true gender dysphoria, is immoral and wrong. It's also a sign of our troubled times.


This is just my anecdotal experience but...



I have experienced bullying based on simply engaging in normal children's play with girls. Insults were attacks on both me and the girls. But I NEVER questioned my gender as a male. So if a child asks me if he's a boy and was identified biologically as one, I am going to question what influences are on the child before I answer.


Clock-Ticking

Wed Sep 13 6:58 PM by geldofc in Pregnancy & Parenting

my clock started ticking in my 20s and i would love a child at 30 now but i want to live how i want for a few more years, and have my career established. i don't see parenthood for another 5 years.



egg freezing seems like a good option esp if you have extra time and money.


bad reasons for having a baby

Tue Aug 1 1:47 AM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

but I take them to restaurants so I know they end up hating 90% of the things they ask for.
:lol:



- kid would like a sibling

- maybe people are right about end of life stuff



That's about it. I hated being pregnant, the last time I was pregnant the hormones were... really awful. Plus kid is now pretty big so another one would be weird and we gave away all our stuff. ;)


how do you travel?

Mon Jun 19 11:00 AM by DarkOne in Pregnancy & Parenting

We're traveling with a 2 yo and a 4yo this week. A 2 hr flight connecting to a 4 hr flight. I broke down and got tablets and headphones, now I just need to load them with movies/games. I'm packing treats and stickers and crayons and notepads. I'm almost positive I'll be carrying on a (very compactable) pillow, 'cause they don't give those out anymore on board. I'm banning toys that can roll several aisles fwd or back when inevitably dropped (besides the crayons). I was planning on gum for ascent/descent, but I think the suckers for the 2yo will be better. I'm so not looking forward to these flights. Maybe the kids will surprise me and be awesome. I'm not worried about the 4yo. But the 2yo...


Bilingual Toddler

Wed May 3 10:19 PM by Nachos in Pregnancy & Parenting

Bilingualism! This is something I know a lot about! My last job was to speak English to my class in a partial immersion school and the kids picked up English so fast but spoke back to me in German. We worked on saying different words in German and in English and it meaning the same thing and I read English books to them. They differentiated pretty well but most of them came from a mono-lingual family background.



I can still highly recommend this book: (https://www.amazon.com/Third-Culture-Kids-Growing-Revised/dp/1857885252) for bilingual children. Some very good advice in there.



Also, keep speaking English! Toddlers forget fast when a language is no longer present.



Yay bilingualism!


gender recognition

Tue Sep 19 11:05 AM by melsbells in Pregnancy & Parenting

MOD NOTE: This thread was split into this thread. I wanted to pull the resources responding to the question in the OP that were in posts split into the other thread.


Mels, I know Cordelia Fine's books on gender and neuroscience address little kids and the infleunces they receive at certain points. To my memory, her work was mainly demonstrative - hey, yes, kids are externally exposed to gender at very early points, and we can see kids beginning to internalize these ideas about gender.



Looking at Wikipedia, I know I've read one of the cited articles before and found it interesting (Martin, C. L. (1990). "Attitudes and Expectations about Children with Nontraditional and Traditional Gender Roles". Sex Roles. 22 (3-4): 151–66.) The gist is that understandings of gender begin to emerge by ages 2 or 3, and they continue to develop over the course of years, which includes some stigma (esp. for boys) when people step outside of understood roles. Then this article is more recent than that (2017), by the same author, and (based on my skim) seems to have pretty decent coverage in the articles it uses (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747736/).


Postpartum issues: things that can go wrong after

Wed Aug 9 5:24 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

ugh that totes doesn't just happen during c-section. I had a friend who found out when she was having (other) surgery years later and they stitched her up since "they were in there anyway". Honestly I think I also have it but it doesn't cause problems *most* of the time (sometimes stabby pain but no one takes it seriously so idk).


Just Can't Let It Go

Wed Jul 26 1:18 AM by Taurwen in Pregnancy & Parenting

We didn't find out specifically because we didn't want a lot of pink stuff if it was a girl.



Somehow MIL has still given us a ton of pink clothing that she'll change him into everytime she comes over.

I hate pink.


Another baby stars

Thu Jun 15 6:54 AM by StarsInUrEye in Pregnancy & Parenting

Thanks for the congratulations and encouragement.



I had an appointment with the obgyn today. He seems to think I'm even farther along than he originally thought. I didn't have an ultrasound. He just went by the size of my uterus. It's well over my belly button now. He's sending me to a high risk Dr. Asap and then I'm suppost to see him again on the 29th. By then he said they will have a better idea as to how far along I actually am. So far the pregnancy is going well. I did have complications with my first one and went to a specialist but this time I'm being referred to one because I'm old lol. They automatically send women when they are 35 and older.


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 ..


It might be time for a baby.

Sat Sep 16 1:59 PM by Sonic# in Pregnancy & Parenting

I got curious on the question of single parent families. Definitely, I think financial stability or having some sort of support network (family, friends) is better than not having it.



I found this article ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4886836/ ). The article does point out that several factors adjust child adjustment, like finances and parental stress. Merely being a single parent? Not a factor:
The findings suggest that solo motherhood, in itself, does not result in psychological problems for children.

The lit review at the beginning of the article adds some specificity here. What seems hard on kids is not single parenthood itself; it's often the divorce that results in a single parent being involved. These studies have consistently shown that children whose parents divorce are more likely to show emotional and behavioral problems than are children in intact families (Amato, 2000, 2001, 2005; Coleman & Glenn, 2009; Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999; Pryor & Rodgers, 2001). However, the children’s difficulties appear to be largely associated with aspects of the divorce, rather than single-parenthood, in itself. Then there are people who become single parents, but not by choice. That's also rough, often because these parents lack the financial stability and stability to do well. So the article is really looking at single parents by choice. They can raise children as well as two-parent households.


How to deal with opinionated toddlers (or babies or kids)

Tue Aug 1 1:57 AM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

Ooof. My kid is very social, needs to be around someone all the time. It's ... challenging, as you've found. It does get better as they gain their own interests. But it took a long time to get past clingy.



Not having read your post, but just the heading, my response was "wine." But after reading your post, I thought "wine."

Yes. After bedtime.



Also, honestly the only way we made it through was we would take turns being the center of focus. We still do this, divide and conquer (and she's only one kid, hell). Also, I know people are like really limit screen time BUT if you really need to get something done one episode of e.g. Daniel Tiger or Paw Patrol or whatever isn't gonna be too bad. I think DarkOne has some good ideas too.



Good luck.


Happiest Baby on the Block

Wed Jul 12 4:52 PM by antfancier in Pregnancy & Parenting

My mum gave me 'Your Baby and Child' by Penelope Leach, which is what she used when she had me. It covers from birth to five years. I read the first section about newborns in preparation. After having the baby, I realised I have zero time or brain power to do anything so I never got around to the rest of it. In general, I liked the book though. It's a simple overview and has nice color photos.


To all Moms: Where do you go for financial concerns?

Tue May 9 4:18 PM by rowan in Pregnancy & Parenting

My father in law does financial advising so we kind of have an in-house advisor? But seriously someone with expertise is great. There are various "how to do finances" through our local community ed, which I'd probably consider if I didn't already have someone to ask. Maybe something like that near you? Libraries also sometimes have programs.



Also I know you can do wills and stuff on your own but honestly I found it super useful to talk through it with a lawyer who does that. She thought of things we never would have. (hm really should revisit now that kid is older) It was a one time fee and not that bad.



We do most of our banking through a credit union. Have been happy with them. We refinanced our mortgage through them when we did that. I remember the big credit union bust ages ago, but there are lots more protections in place now and big banks can be pretty awful.


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.