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Coping With Slow Labor
by Patricia Newton, CCCE, CLE

While some women experience fast labors and occasionally donít even make it to the hospital on time, others labor for hours or sometimes days. These labors are physically and emotionally exhausting for you and your support people.

To effectively deal with a slow or stalled labor, you need to understand why it sometimes happens.

Labor takes time. There is much more to labor than dilating and pushing. In fact, there are six actions which occur during the process of labor.

  • The cervix moves to a more forward-facing (or anterior) position
  • The cervix (which at first feels like the tip of your nose) softens, or "ripens."
  • The cervix then begins to melt away, or "efface."
  • The cervix dilates to approximately 10 centimeters.
  • The baby turns, and his relatively soft skull molds as it passes through the pelvis.
  • The baby moves down through the birth canal and is born.

The longest part of labor is usually from the beginning until dilation of approximately 5 centimeters. Itís perfectly normal for labor to progress slowly during this time. A slow, early phase does not necessarily mean anything is wrong.

Poor positioning of the baby. Sometimes the baby is not in the best position to help the cervix adequately dilate, resulting in a slow labor with ineffective contractions. Although it can be a relief to hear that your babyís head is down, there are many variations of the head-down position to be aware of.

Fortunately, there are simple exercises you can do during your pregnancy to help prevent complications with your babyís position. Doulas and some childbirth educators are knowledgeable about these movements and can assist you with your specific situation.

Fear and anxiety. The childbirth process is a psycho-sexual event, and a laboring womanís mind is a very important factor in the progress of her labor. Fears for your babyís safety and doubts about your own ability to give birth and slow labor.

It is believed that high levels of catecholamines, brought on by stress, can slow or even stall the labor process in all mammals. This problem can be minimized if you are properly prepared prior to labor.

If you are faced with a slow labor, consider these tips to help you safely and naturally through the process.

Meet your physical needs.

Change your position every 30 minutes. Try walking, rocking, sitting on a birth ball, lunging and other positions. If you are confined to a bed, lie on one side for a few contractions, then change to the other side. Forward-leaning positions (both in and out of bed) can be helpful.

Stay hydrated. Dehydration can complicate matters for an exhausted woman by decreasing the intensity and therefore the effectiveness of your contractions. Drink clear fluids throughout your labor. If this is not allowed in your birth setting, suck on ice chips often.

Stimulate your nipples. Lightly stroking one or both nipples increases oxytocin, a hormone responsible for contracting the uterus. Stimulation should be performed in between contractions, never during one.

Try acupressure. Pressure applied to the spot on the inner shin known a "Spleen 6" as well as the "ho-ku" point where the thumb and index finger bones meet can help increase contractions.

Apply heat. Comfortably warm heat from a rice sock or other portable heat source placed at the top, or fundus, of your uterus may help strengthen contractions during a slow labor.

Ease your emotional needs.

Take your time. Be patient. You should understand all that is involved with the labor process and that all of the necessary changes take time. Your body will find its own rhythm during labor. Even though the rhythm may be at a slower pace than you desire, itís okay.

Distract yourself. Timing each and every contraction during a slow labor can be a bad idea. Watch a movie, listen to some music, play a game with someone or even sketch what you think the baby looks like. These activities will somewhat take your mind off of your labor.

Get support and reassurance. Labor support people can make or break your labor experience. Practically every woman begins to doubt herself and wants to quit at one time or another during labor. If you are experiencing a slow labor, you will especially need someone to keep reminding you that indeed, you can do this.

Surround yourself with support.

Labor in a calm atmosphere. The last thing you need during labor is an argument. Sometimes support people who are stressed and concerned for you and your baby can react by arguing with others, including the health care staff. Your birthing environment needs to be as peaceful as possible. Think long and hard about who you will invite to be with your during your labor. Someone who reacts in a quick and negative way may not be a good choice.

Touch someone. If your support person forgets everything he learned in childbirth education class, all he needs to remember is to be physically present and to touch you. In this "un-touchy" society of ours, simply holding your hand speaks volumes. Being massaged during labor can be extremely beneficial. Massage reduces the level of pain felt because it releases endorphins, your bodyís natural pain killers.

Use a health care provider who trusts the birth process. A woman faced with a slow labor needs a doctor or midwife who believes in the non-medicalization of birth and trusts the process more than follows a clock. Itís a frightening thing to be told during labor that you need to dilate a certain amount within a couple of hours "or else." Discussing these expectations with your doctor or midwife prior to labor will give you an idea of what to expect from him or her well in advance.

You can survive a slow labor. And the sleep you get afterwards will never have felt so good!

© Patricia Newton

About the Author:
Patricia Newton is a certified childbirth and lactation educator, doula and owner of Proud Pregnancies, a childbirth education and doula service in Greenwich, N.J.

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