In the rush of the holiday season, most people worry about on-time delivery of important gifts and packages for friends and loved ones. But if you’re a pregnant woman due around the holidays, there’s an added worry about when your baby will arrive.
Around the holidays, many pregnant women experience pressure from family or their healthcare providers to “schedule” their baby’s birthday around festivities and travel plans. Be aware, however, that scheduling a baby’s delivery without a compelling medical reason can put your baby at risk.
“Few doctors want to be pacing the halls on Thanksgiving or Christmas, waiting for a mother to deliver,” said Marilyn Curl, CNM, MSN, LCCE, FACCE and president of Lamaze International. “So it’s not uncommon to see a surge of women with normal pregnancies being told that there might be an issue and that they should consider scheduling the delivery, coincidentally, right before a holiday.”
It’s not just your healthcare professional who may try to rush your baby’s arrival. Families often can feel stressed about the uncertainty of the baby’s arrival and feel it may compromise the celebration of holidays. Some women also fear that their preferred healthcare provider won’t be available and will agree to a scheduled early delivery to guarantee that their provider will be available for the birth.
“I really understand that pressure. You build a relationship with your care provider over the course of a pregnancy. Plus, you build up expectations about your holiday celebration. So it seems like ‘no big deal’ just to get the birth over with,” said Sue Galyen, RN, MSN, HCHI, LCCE, FACCE, a Lamaze childbirth educator from Brownsburg, IN. “But it’s so hard to think that a scheduled delivery, whether through induction or cesarean, was worth it when either the mother or baby experiences a complication as a result.”
One complication of scheduling your baby’s birthday is that often, baby is delivered just a little too early. A growing body of research shows that giving a baby those last few weeks or days inside the uterus can be crucial to the baby’s health. Babies born even a “little” early face risks including breastfeeding difficulties, learning and behavioral problems, breathing problems, increased chance of time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and risk of death.
You can play a key part in driving down avoidable prematurity. “Red flags” that might signal being pressured into an unnecessarily early delivery include:
• The care provider suggests that the baby is too big and will be easier to deliver “a little early”
• The suggestion is made that the care provider won’t be available for a holiday delivery or will be “booked up”
• The timing of the delivery is centered on travel and celebration schedules
• Holiday stress is driving feelings of wanting to get the pregnancy “over with”
Here are some things you can do if you feel you are being pressured into an early delivery:
- Ask your provider if you need to make a decision right now. If not, ask why not? Few decisions need to be made on the spot unless the mother or baby are clearly doing poorly.
- Research your options. Use credible sources of information, like Lamaze, Childbirth Connection, Mothering Magazine’s online forum or your doula to see what the research says and talk to other moms about their experiences.
- Make a pro/con list. Label your pros and cons with “medical” vs. “personal” and weigh the “medical” pros and cons more heavily. If you are talking about a major medical intervention like cesarean or induction and you don’t have a good list of cons, it’s a good sign that you need to do more research.
- Trust your gut. Your instincts are geared to protect you and your baby from risk. Listen to what your gut is saying in the context of the research.
- Find support. It’s hard to disagree with your health care provider, so be sure that you go into your appointments with someone who can help you have an informed, evidence-based conversation about your best options.
Inducing labor without a compelling medical reason is one of many routine interventions that has not proven a medical benefit to mothers and babies and can impose harm. Other common routine interventions include continuous fetal monitoring, coached pushing, being positioned on your back during labor, requiring repeat cesarean surgeries for women with a prior cesarean and separating mothers and babies after birth.