Too Big to Be Born

My big newborn. 9 lbs 8 oz

My big newborn. 9 lbs 8 oz

As you all know, Twig was a big baby. Along with the other myriad of questions that are asked about a new baby, of course, was “How big was she?” Before Twig was born, I didn’t know that my answer of “Nine and a half pounds.” would open a whole new can of worms. The initial shock and awe was followed by “Was it natural?” (in this case meaning vaginally, as opposed to drug-free) and I’d follow with “Yeah, she was born at home.”

Cue dropped jaw.

As if I hadn’t already shocked them enough with my ability to push an above-average-sized child out of my loins. Now I’ve blow their mind with the fact that I not only did it without pain medication, but outside of a hospital.

I remember my husband saying, within a day of Twig’s birth, that we were proof that big babies can still be born vaginally. And we’re not the only ones. Shortly before Twig was born, I found my midwife’s office on Facebook and followed them. They post cute little birth announcements (anonymous of course) with something special about that baby or situation. Congratulating a mom who had a rough labor, adoring a full head of hair, that sort of thing. Often, especially with big babies, the weight is mentioned. And the shocker for me is that they catch big babies pretty frequently. Looking over the past few months on their page, it seems to be about 2 a month on average. Presuming they’re not the only people in the world who deliver babies, that makes for a lot of big babies! Or does it?

Why is it such a rare thing for big babies to be born when it’s not that rare at my midwife’s office? One could make an argument that by random chance, they have a lot of big babies born. Seems unlikely. Maybe it’s more in their ability to leave a baby alone. Most moms that I know start talking induction the second they hit 37 weeks and their doctors are the same. Even with the hospital midwives I had while I was pregnant with Peanut, they told me they wouldn’t let me go past 41 weeks, even though 42 is considered “safe” by most and beyond that is even safe so long as baby is still thriving. This study calls 42+ weeks “post-term” (rather than the 40 weeks that people seem to think) and says that 5-10% of all pregnancies continue to that point. Yes, risks increase at that point, but monitoring a pregnancy is often all that’s necessary.

So let’s assume you have a baby who is ready to be born at 41 weeks, which is actually pretty average (41 weeks 1 day for first time moms, 40 weeks 5 days for further pregnancies). You don’t know that, of course, and are induced at 39 weeks, which is also pretty normal. That’s two full weeks before that baby was ready to come out. Since babies gain about a half of a pound a week, that’s a full pound bigger than they would have been if they would have been allowed to choose their own birthday, not to mention all of the other development they would have gotten in the womb. So maybe it’s not that uncommon to have a big baby, we’re just not giving them the time they need to get that big.

Then there’s the story I’ve heard from multiple moms that their doctor tells them, after an ultrasound late in the pregnancy, that they’re going to have to have a c-section because their baby is too big. First, ultrasounds can be off by as much as 2 lbs at the end of pregnancy, so that supposed 10 lb baby could really be 8 or 12. There’s no way to tell.

And let’s say that baby really is a 10 pounder. Or even a 12 pounder. Baring medical complications like gestational diabetes, why would your body make a baby that was too big to actually exit? The answer is that it wouldn’t. If this was something that routinely happened, as many doctors seem to think that it does, we would not have survived as a species.

So is there such thing as a baby that’s too big to be born? Under normal circumstances, I firmly believe that there is not. So if you need to have an ultrasound at the end of pregnancy, try to ignore comments about weight in general. You can do this. You can birth a baby. Trust me, your body was made for it. 

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4 thoughts on “Too Big to Be Born

  1. I agree with most of what you said, but yes, your body can make a baby that is too big to be born. In centuries past it was probably a lot less likely, given poor nutrition and such, however in those times it usually did result in death for the baby and/or mother. Remember that during much of history, infant and maternal mortality high anyway. Since there was not much in the way of birth control, people generally had a lot of babies, so enough survived to propagate the species.

    While such a scenario would be virtually unheard of in the developed world today, “too big” babies can end up with various injuries. The most dangerous, I would think, would be a lack of oxygen if a baby is “stuck.” Another couple in our childbirth class had a surprise 12 pounder that ended up with both arms broken due to the traumatic delivery. My sister, who was also over 10 pounds at birth, also had an arm injury from the difficult delivery.

    So, as I said, while I agree with much of your post, yes, a baby can be big enough to cause problems. That said, I am sure that any competent midwife would know the signs to look for and, if a problem did arise during delivery would know how to address it or when to make a transfer to a hospital, if one were necessary.

    • You’re right, it can happen. I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear in the blog post. My point is more that it is incredibly rare. I frequently hear of moms who are told they’ll need a c-section based on baby’s weight. Much more frequent than it really can happen for our species to persist. And when health professionals are trained on what to do if a baby is big, I think that decreases the risk of birth injuries like you’re talking about. From what I’ve heard, there are doctors that would have rather pulled Twig back out of the birth canal through a c-section than try to get her shoulder out from my pubic bone, but my midwife got her out before we even knew there was a problem. Of course this can’t always be the case, but I think it could be the case a lot more often if our professionals were used to normal births.

  2. Hi. I used to think like you. Believe me. I am a big fan of natural deliveries. I am a small person and my baby was over 10 pounds. She was so big she wasn’t going down in the canal. My doctor supported my will of a natural delivery but after 24hs of active labour she told me I was going to get tired to push (she was right). I was puking every food eaten. I accepted to be induced. After I was dilated, I pushed for 2 hours and I almost faint (almost). My baby got stock, her head out (shoulder distossia) and they had to put a hand inside of me to bend (or brake) her shoulder. She was 3 minutes with her head out, not knowing if the cord was clamped. She almost get her shoulder brake. After 10 months I still have major incontinence urinary problems. We are extremely lucky because she seems to be fine. I am not so sure of what I think now. Big babies can be a problem.

    • Big babies are definitely a tricky situation, but if the medical professional is train in how to handle the situation, as most OBGYNs today are not, then they are as big of an issue. My midwife is well trained to handle it and was actually able to fix the situation before my two big baby’s shoulders got stuck. Things like that.

      Even if a baby is too big, it’s not something that can be discovered until the birth. My main point in this post was that when they tell a mom that her baby will be too big via ultrasound before labor has even started, that’s total bull. And in general, our babies aren’t made bigger than our bodies can tolerate.

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