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Slow Labor? How to Speed Things Along

Katlyn Joy | 5, August 2013


Nothing is quite as disappointing as rushing to the hospital and then in a totally anticlimactic moment, finding out things have stalled out and you could measure your dilated cervix in millimeters rather than centimeters.

This can happen at any point in labor, and in any birth but it does seem slightly more common with first labors. If it happens to you, don't despair. You can try some simple methods for moving things along.

For starters, don't rush off to the hospital.

Yes, having a baby in the car is a possibility but chances are you'll know and have time to make it if you wait for the signs. If you doctor instructs you to go to the hospital, then you should go, but hurrying off to the hospital not only won't speed things up, but may actually slow things. You won't be as comfortable and that can interfere with the natural progress of labor. You won't be as likely to be mobile, which can help labor and you won't be offered snacks or drinks and staying hydrated and fueled for the big job ahead can be big labor boosters.

Get moving.

Staying active will help labor move ahead so take a walk, head to the mall or spin along on the stationary bike if still feasible for you. Don't just take residence in the rocking chair because you are in the early stages of labor. When you have to stay put, you will know.

Use the force.

No, this isn't a sci-fi movie. Use the force of gravity. It's the age-old method of childbirth and it is so for a very good reason. Staying upright and letting gravity give you an assist is a simple way to get things going again if they have stalled out. Sitting, squatting, standing or basically doing anything but lying flat or nearly so is the key.

Get comfortable in every way possible.

Emotionally, you need to feel safe, secure and supported so know what that takes to feel it and demand it. If your sister in-law shows up whining in your labor suite, make hubby kick her unwanted and unneeded butt out. You can make amends later, don't worry. This is about you now without apology or question so if you want to listen to four hours of violin concerto music, go for it. If you want fuzzy socks on your feet, a warm oatmeal lotion massage on your calves and a cool rag on your face, let your partner know.

5 Things You Can Do If Labor Stalls

Real Reasons Labor May Stall

Labors are not consistent creatures, even in the same woman. Sometimes they are clockwork, dilating a centimeter each and every hour. Some women will have a quiet leisurely few hours of early labor and then wham, they dilate 5 centimeters in mere seconds.

Moms Talk: What Does Labor Really Feel Like?

However if things were progressing well and then simply shut down for an extended period of time, expect your health care provider to look at three essential areas for the slowdown.

  • Baby. Is the baby too large and is that the hold up? Is baby in a less than ideal birthing position?
  • The route. Is your birth canal not the easiest route to transverse for some reason? Are you too narrow, angled awkwardly for baby's journey or is there some other obstacle?
  • The labor itself. Have your contractions lost their mojo? Has labor gone on so long and you've lost the energy to effectively power on?

Your doctor will get images of baby and the birth canal if a problem is suspected, so don't be surprised for a last minute ultrasound. If you are fatigued, some simple no-brainer helps may be needed such as sucking on a popsicle or drinking light broth for some hydration and energy. Maybe you can take a power nap between those sluggish contractions to get some UMPH in your labor.

Your doctor may decide the low tech intervention of breaking your bag or membrane of waters, also technically referred to as an amniotomy, is in order. This is a fairly easy procedure where a crochet hook type instrument is positioned up the vagina into the cervix and a hole is made. Once the water is broken, you can often find yourself in more active and aggressive labor.

If that doesn't work, expect talk of pitocin or augmenting labor. This has it's proponents, naysayers and risks. You may find it's just the answer for your stalled labor or you may later lament that it was the first misstep towards an unwanted and possibly unnecessary cesarean section.

Other ways to get labor going once it's gone flat:

Nipple stimulation.

This can be accomplished by you, your man, or splashing water on them during a bath. Too much can result in pretty strong contractions so use this after getting a doctor's or midwife's directions.

Get sexy.

Yes, sexy. Cuddle up to your man and get busy. Having sex and/or an orgasm can get things going. Just remember, if your bag of waters has broken, sex is a no-no as infection is a risk. However, an "O" is another matter.

Stay positive.

If you start believing something is wrong or you can't manage labor, you'll create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make sure the people around you are positive as well as negative is contagious.

Remember one key point: you will get through labor and your baby is nearly born. Hang on and persevere.

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.

Related Articles

5 Things You Can Do If Labor Stalls

Preterm Labor & How To Avoid Preterm Labor

Hypnobirthing, A New Way To Labor

Signs of Labor

Preterm Labor


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