If there’s one thing that all expectant women can agree on, it’s that they hope that their labor goes as quickly as possible. Their hope is totally understandable, too. I mean, who wants to experience the intense pain of contractions, the aches and pains in the back, the poking and prodding – and everything else that goes along with labor – for a long period of time? I know that I sure didn’t!
Despite hoping beyond hope, countless women end up experiencing long, drawn-out labors that seem to last an eternity, at least to them. Even if they are laboring for only a few hours, it can seem like it has been going on FOREVER! And then there are those women who really do experience prolonged labors. Also known as “failure to progress”, a prolonged labor is one that lasts for 20 hours or more for first-time moms and 14 hours or longer for women who have previously given birth (yes, you read those numbers right!).
A prolonged labor during the latent phase (the first stage) of labor can be mentally and physically exhausting and emotionally draining, but seldom does it cause complications. However, if prolonged labor occurs during the active phase, complications could arise and intervention in the form of induction or an emergency C-section may be necessary.
Why does prolonged labor happen? There are a number of reasons. Often, it’s through no fault of mom. She might have a small pelvis, her birth canal may be too small, or the baby may be too big, for example. But sometimes, a long labor can be the result of something mom is doing – or not doing.
Here’s a look at 15 things pregnant women do that can prolong their labor.
15 Not Getting Out Of Bed
There seems to be this common misconception that women who are in labor need to remain in bed laying on their backs. Maybe that’s because of the way Hollywood portrays giving birth (have you ever seen a movie or watched a TV show where a woman in labor was doing anything other than laying in bed?), or maybe it’s because that’s just what expectant moms think is natural and assume that it is the easiest way to give birth.
Though it might seem like the most natural way to go through labor, staying in bed can actually end up making things take longer than they need to.
Gravity is a natural tool for speeding up labor because it can help pull the baby down the birth canal. However, when you’re lying on your back, gravity isn’t quite as effective, which can lead to a prolonged labor.
Get up and out of bed! Take a walk; bounce on a birthing ball; dance! Getting out of bed and moving can help to speed up your labor!
14 Saying “Yes” To An Epidural
When the pains of labor start getting intense, an epidural seems like the best idea. Nay, it seems like a gift from heaven above!
An epidural is a form of regional anesthesia. It blocks nerve impulses from the spine and prevents them from being sent to the brain. As a result, the sensation in the lower portion of the body decreases, which prevents a woman from experiencing those breathtaking contractions.
Despite the definite benefit of experiencing little to no pain, there are some negative side effects associated with epidurals. Most notably, they can slow down or even stop labor. The reason? The anesthesia can disrupt the release of oxytocin, the hormone that allows the uterus to contract. Obviously, if contractions slow down and become less intense, labor is going to take longer.
You might want to think twice about an epidural. There are many different ways to manage labor pain. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the different options.
13 Becoming Dehydrated
Dehydration is dangerous for anyone, but it’s particularly dangerous for pregnant women. It can cause the muscles throughout the body to contract, including the muscles in the uterus, at any stage of pregnancy. Dehydration can also lead to inflammation of tissues and muscles.
During labor, if a woman is dehydrated, not only can she end up experiencing severe and intensely painful contractions, but it can also inflame the cervix.
If the cervix becomes swollen, the baby can have difficulties moving into and out of the birth canal. Moreover, dehydration can lead to fetal distress, which can also slow down labor.
Due to the complications that dehydration can cause, it’s no wonder that so many women receive extra fluids via an IV while they are in labor. If you’re afraid that dehydration is a risk, speak to your doctor about ways you can increase your fluid levels.
12 Taking A Soak
Soaking in a warm bath is very soothing. That’s why many women are inclined to take a bath when contractions start to set in. While yes, water can be a great tool during active labor (hence the reason that water births are so popular and many midwives and doulas recommend them), during the early phase of labor, soaking in warm water can bring contractions to a halt.
Being submerged in warm water can be so relaxing that it can actually inhibit the production of oxytocin, the hormone that helps the uterus contract. Until labor has progressed to a point where contractions are strong, organized, and close together, an expectant mom should avoid taking a warm bath or limit the amount of time she spends in warm water. Once active labor begins though, water can help relax mom-to-be so that she can better manage the pain of labor and delivery.
11 Being Too Tense
It’s normal for a woman to be afraid when labor sets in, especially if it’s her first time giving birth. The fear of the unknown can be quite overwhelming and frankly, terrifying.
When the body senses fear, it tends to tense up. When it’s too tense, labor can slow down. Why? There are actually a few reasons. Being too tense can interrupt the production of oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions. Tension can also cause the muscles to stiffen up, which can negatively impact the effectiveness of contractions. While yes, contractions do cause the uterine muscles to tighten, they also need to tighten in order for labor to progress.
If those muscles are too stiff, labor could slow to a snail’s pace or completely come to a halt.
If you are nervous about labor and delivery, it’s perfectly normal; but in order to avoid becoming too tense and possibly slowing your labor, speak to your doctor or midwife well in advance of your due date to find out ways to relax your mind and your body when the big moment arrives.
10 Getting Induced
When a mom-to-be is past her due date and she isn’t showing any signs of labor, she might end up having to be induced. There are many ways that doctors can induce labor, one of the most common being through the use of Pitocin.
Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, the hormone that helps the uterus contract. When a woman doesn’t go into labor naturally, it could be because her body isn’t producing enough oxytocin. Pitocin causes strong and rapid contractions, which, like artificially rupturing the membranes, can lead to fetal distress. As already stated, when the fetus is distressed, the heart rate can slow, as can movement; both of which can negatively impact the progression of labor and could potentially necessitate delivering via an emergency C-section.
Unless artificial induction is deemed absolutely essential, it’s best to avoid it.
9 Ignoring The OBGYN
It’s definitely true that a woman knows her body the best; however, OBGYNs are professionals at giving birth, and they know a thing or two (a lot more, actually) about the process.
If an expectant mom’s doctor makes recommendations during labor, a woman should certainly take those recommendations into serious consideration. For example, if the doctor tells her to get up and move, she should heed their advice.
As mentioned, staying still in bed can slow down labor and thus make the entire process of giving birth take a lot longer.
OBGYNs aren’t perfect; they are human after all, which means that they can make mistakes. However, in most cases, they are highly knowledgeable about labor and delivery. Unless a laboring mom thinks that an instruction is seriously questionable, she should heed her doctor’s advice.
8 Sending Out An Open Invitation
Welcoming a new baby into the world is exciting, and chances are that there are a lot of people in a soon-to-be mom’s life that are eager to share the joy of the birth. In fact, there might be a whole army of people who are waiting with bated breath for the baby to arrive.
Since so many people are looking forward to the arrival of the baby, mom might decide to invite those people into the room where she is laboring. However, while the sentiment might be nice, extending an open invitation can actually end up slowing down labor. With so many people coming and going, mom can get distracted and won’t be able to focus all of her attention on laboring. For example, she might miss cues that her body sends her, she may be too self-conscious, or she might dismiss instructions from her doctor.
7 Holding Back
Labor is an intensely physical process, but what a lot of pregnant women fail to realize is that it is also extremely mental. In fact, some might argue that labor is more mental than physical. There are so many thoughts and emotions that run through a woman’s head while she is in labor, and those thoughts and emotions can have a direct effect on the progression of her labor.
Many doctors and birthing coaches encourage expectant moms to let go of their emotions when they are in labor; to cry, to scream, to talk, or do anything else they can think of to let their emotions out.
Holding back those emotions for fear that someone will judge you or because you think that it’s ridiculous can slow down your labor. Why? – Because you are focusing on them internally, which can distract you from the task at hand – breathing and pushing through those contractions.
6 Staying Still
The pain of labor can scare an expectant mom stiff. In fact, those contractions can be so intense that it might make a mom-to-be afraid to move a muscle. But no matter how intense the contractions get and how much frightened you might be about the entire labor process, resist the urge to stay still.
Not only can staying still intensify the pain, but it can slow down labor. That’s why doctors, midwives, doulas, and birthing coaches strongly recommend pregnant women move while they are in labor. Being physically active can actually help to take the focus off the pain, which can make the entire process easier to cope with. Plus, moving can help the labor progress.
If you think about it, it makes sense that moving helps speed things up; the baby is trying to move down and get out. If you are moving you moving, the effects of gravity and the motion of your hips can help to move the baby down into the birth canal and make labor and delivery go faster.
5 Letting The Paranoia Get To You
Fear is a normal reaction to childbirth. Expectant moms – especially those who are first-timers – might be afraid of the pain, afraid of what’s going to happen to them, nervous that something might happen to their babies, and just plain nervous about the whole idea of becoming a mother and having someone else be totally dependent on them. Yeah, to say that childbirth and becoming a mother is frightening is an understatement.
While fear is totally normal, if a woman is focusing on that fear too much during childbirth, she could end up making her labor take longer. Fear produces adrenaline and cortisol, two hormones that can slow the production of oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for uterine contractions.
Fear can cause the body to tense up, which can prevent the effectiveness of contractions, thus delaying labor.
4 Artificially Rupturing The Membranes
Artificial rupture of membranes (AROM), also referred to as an amniotomy, is a process that essentially breaks an expectant mom’s water in an unnatural way. A doctor or midwife can rupture the membranes using an amnihook, a special tool that is specifically designed to puncture the amniotic sac and break the water. A finger can also be used for the procedure.
AROM is believed to induce or progress labor. It can result in intense contractions that can speed up the process of labor and delivery; however, there is a chance that it can actually slow labor. When the body starts to experience severe contractions suddenly, the fetus can become distressed. When the baby is distressed, their heart rate can slow down and so can their movement. Should AROM lead to fetal distress and slow labor, other interventions may be necessary, such as an emergency C-section.
3 Being Over-Stimulated
Overstimulation isn’t good for anyone. When there’s too much going on, it’s hard for the mind to focus, which can make a person feel cranky, irritated, tired, and uncomfortable. Apply all of those things to a woman who is in labor and it can certainly slow things down.
Labor requires a great deal of focus, particularly during the active phase.
When there’s too much going on – a lot of people buzzing around, lots of noises, or even too much interaction with technology (like smartphones) – a woman can find it difficult to concentrate on her labor. When focusing becomes difficult, a laboring mom can miss cues that her body is sending her. In turn, her labor can slow to a halt.
If you feel like there is too much going on while you’re in labor, consider eliminating as many distractions as you can so that you can focus on your body and your baby and avoid slowing your labor.
2 Too Much Negativity
If there’s one thing a mom-to-be needs, it is support and positivity. These things are important throughout pregnancy, but they are particularly important during labor.
A woman can experience a lot of uneasiness during labor, especially if it’s her first time going through it. She can be extremely uncomfortable and unsure. That’s why it’s so important for her to receive positive affirmations and to be surrounded by a strong support system.
If a mom-to-be is surrounded by negativity, her feelings of uneasiness can be compounded, which can have a negative impact on her labor and delivery; namely, it can make it take a lot longer.
If you feel like anyone around you is being negative while you’re in labor, give them the boot! And don’t be afraid to receipt positive affirmations to yourself! You can certainly be your own coach and give yourself the encouragement and strength that is needed to get through labor.
1 Being Stressed To The Max
Just like fear can slow down labor, so can stress. When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol – the stress hormone. Cortisol helps the body respond to stress, but when levels are too high, it can offset the production of oxytocin. Additionally, high levels of cortisol can actually prevent dilation from progressing or even regress it! Lastly, cortisol regulates your metabolism by increasing the production of insulin.
When insulin levels are high, blood sugar is imbalanced, which can deplete a laboring mom’s energy levels and make the process more challenging.
In other words, high levels of stress can dramatically slow down labor, or bring even bring it to a screeching halt. If you are feeling stressed, try listening to soothing music, turning the lights off, or asking your birth partner to give you a massage with calming essential oils.