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You are here: Home - Pregnancy - Labor & Childbirth

Today's Labors Last Longer Than 50 Years Ago

by Katlyn Joy | April 10, 2012 9:38 AM
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Today's Labors Last Longer Than 50 Years Ago

Your mom and grandmother may have had far different labors than you will, according to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The study looked at labors for women stretching from the late 1950's through the mid 1960's and then compared them to women from 2002 through 2008. In all the study compiled findings from tens of thousands of mothers from the earlier generations and almost 100,000 women from the last several years.

What researchers found was that first time mothers labored for two and a half more hours in the first stage of labor than women from earlier decades. For those who had given birth previously, labor lasted nearly two hours longer than women from the 50's and 60's. The first stage of labor is defined as the period between 4 centimeters dilated to fully dilated.

The bottom line for labor is 50 years ago a woman took on average four hours to give birth, while a woman today can expect labor to last six and a half hours.

Other interesting findings include that babies today are born on average five days sooner than in previous generations and are more likely to weigh more.

However, while the findings are not in dispute, the causes may well be. It's relatively unclear what the exact reasons or factors may be which cause women to labor longer in modern times.

One possible cause may be the sharp rise in epidurals. Two large studies have already indicated that epidurals lengthen labor by as much as an hour or more.

Another factor for longer births may be the more common practice of inducing labor. Often labor that is augmented will be longer than a spontaneous birth. The reasons for more inductions may be the result of more close monitoring of baby and mother by way of modern technology.

Heavier mothers may be partly to blame for the trend as well. Today's mothers have a higher BMI or body mass index. Heavier moms also tend to give birth to heavier babies, which typically take longer to deliver.

Today's mom is also more likely to be an older mother and prolonged labors are a common risk factor among women who give birth at advanced maternal ages.

However, it may well be that a longer labor is actually a healthy labor for today's pregnant women. With more in depth research, it could be that new guidelines could be used to decide just how long a labor can continue before interventions may be introduced or cesarean births are deemed necessary.

Tips for Speeding Up Labor

If you are expecting, you may not find the recent study comforting. No one likes the idea of a long drawn-out labor. However, you can do thing on your own to speed labor along.

Keep moving. Staying busy for as long as possible, taking walks and keeping on your feet are good ideas for early labor.

Stay upright. Laboring on your back is literally pushing uphill. It just doesn't make much sense. Staying as vertical as possible draws on the power of gravity, which during labor is your friend.

Stay hydrated in early labor. If you are at home this doesn't mean downing a gallon milk and having half a pepperoni pizza. Keep it light and clear. Suck on ice chips, lick a popsicle, have a little juice but don't overdo it.

Try to avoid unnecessary induction or C-sections. This does not mean fighting the reality of one if conditions clearly indicate a problem particularly if your fetus is in distress. Basically, if the baby needs more time to cook, don't open the oven door. However, recognize that there are times when the womb becomes an inhospitable place for a growing baby and eviction papers must be served in a timely manner.


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