9 Reasons Your Labor May Have Started and Stopped

Every woman’s experience with labor is different, and nobody can predict how long it will last. In some cases, women have reported that their labor has started and then out of nowhere, stopped. Has this happened to you? Has it happened to someone you know? Have you even heard of this before?

Although we cannot fully understand why our bodies’ do what they do, we can prepare ourselves for certain situations, and in this case, the starting and stopping of labor. If labor starts, it will stop, and the end result is you meeting your baby. There are times however where contractions can begin, but the labor hasn’t, making it seem as though a labor has stopped without a full delivery. 

These contractions are known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which are defined as “intermittent weak contractions of the uterus occurring during pregnancy.” Braxton Hicks contractions can occur as early as the second trimester of pregnancy, but because they are most common during the third trimester, they are often confused with labor contractions.

Women can also experience what is called a prodromal labor, also known as the early phase of labor. In most cases, prodromal labor occurs right before the delivery process. Much like Braxton Hicks contractions, a prodromal labor is early contractions that don’t increase in length, frequency or intensity. Prodromal labor may begin hours or even days before the actual labor takes place.

You may be thinking, “What is the difference between a prodromal labor and Braxton Hicks contractions?” In a prodromal labor, unlike with Braxton Hicks contractions, the cervix may slowly begin to dilate. Because of these labor-like symptoms, many women will head to the hospital only to find out that what they are experiencing is a “false labor.” In other words the dilation process has stopped.

Both of these occurrences can be extremely daunting, and may leave a woman with many unanswered questions. While there is no way to predict this will happen, we have outlined some possible reasons why. So, let’s take a look at why your labor may have started and then stopped.

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9 Fear

There may be some emotional reasons as to why labor can stall. Fear is perhaps one of the most common emotions towards the delivery process. In this case, women want to maintain control of their labor, but may be fearful of complications, which can indirectly lead to the inability to release. While it’s not proven that fear can stop your labor completely, it can however lead to a prolonged labor, which may seem as though it’s starting and stopping.

What to do?

To prevent delivery day fear, prepare yourself in advance. Write down a few concerns about labor you may be having and discuss them with your doctor before your due date. The mind is a powerful thing, so if fears are resolved in advance, the delivery process could (and likely will) go smoother. 

8 Cervical Resistance

Premature contractions may give you to urge to push as a way to alleviate your pain. Though this may seem like the natural thing to do, you should never push until advised. Although it’s rare, pushing on a cervix that isn’t ready could swell, or worse, tear it.

What to do?

Let nature take its course. Count your contractions and make sure there is a pattern in the time between each. The biggest indicator of actual labor is the pattern of each contraction: your contractions should become longer, stronger and closer together. If you are experiencing irregular contractions, then you are likely not in labor, but rather experiencing either prodromal or Braxton Hicks contractions. 

7 Dehydration

While it is not proven that dehydration can lead to the starting and stopping of labor, it can in fact cause premature contractions. In other words, dehydration can make you contract, but it may not cause any cervical changes. This could seem as though your labor has stopped completely, but really it may have yet to begun.

What to do?

Dehydration is never a good sign, especially for pregnant women. Why? There is approximately 50% more fluid volume in a pregnant woman’s system so it’s important to stay hydrated. Drinking 10 glasses of water each day is ideal for moderately active moms. However, if it’s hot outside, or if you’ve been exercising, you’ll need even more.

6 Hormonal Changes

Pregnant women will experience various surges in estrogen, and those with sensitivity to these surges can experience Braxton Hicks contractions. As mentioned, such contractions can make you feel like labor has started, but truthfully it hasn’t. Braxton Hicks contractions will eventually subside, which could confuse a first time mother, as she may think her labor has already begun.

What to do?

Listen to your body. If you can eat and rest normally, or if these contractions seem irregular and eventually subside, things are generally fine and your labor has yet to start. It is important however never to ignore any changes in your body, especially during pregnancy. Always make sure to keep in contact with your birth attendants. This will make for a more relaxing experience for both you and your baby. 

5 Full Bladder

A full bladder can cause premature contractions, and some women have even reported feeling contractions as early as 12-weeks.

What to do?

In most cases, emptying the bladder will stop these contractions and ease any confusion that your labor has started. It is important to remember that a pregnant woman should never keep her bladder full in case of possible urinary tract or kidney infection, which can cause major physical stress on the body. 

4 Tight or Weak Muscles

Having tight or weakened muscles could in fact prolong the labor process. In this case, a labor may have stalled because a woman is having what is referred to as a back labor. A back labor occurs when the baby is not properly angled and could likely be caused from tight or weakened muscles. When a baby is not properly angled, labor can be stopped because the cervix is unable to dilate.

What to do?

Move around and work with gravity. When you feel the need to get up, make sure to do it. Being vertical and moving around can actually help shift the baby from your back to your cervix. If you feel you need to do even more, move your pelvis by gently performing some Abdominal Lifts, also known as “Belly Lifts.” With success, the cervix will begin to dilate.

3 Cervical Scar Tissue

You may be thinking, “What’s this? And what does it have to do with affecting my labor?” Cervical scar tissue (CST) is often overlooked, but it can be another contributing factor as to why a labor has started, and then stalled. The truth is, you may have cervical scar tissue and not even know it.

It has been reported that women who have undergone gynecological procedures like a D&C or the placement of an IUD have cervical scar tissue. For both of these procedures, in most cases, a cervical stabilizer (tenaculum) is used. This instrument can pierce the cervix while it is being manually dilated and thus cause a granular-type scarring. Not all women however are affected by such procedures. Why? Some people naturally produce more keloids, which are the excess growth of scar tissue at the site of a healed injury.

The most common signs of CST are:

  • Prodromal labor
  • Dilation stall
  • High effacement/low dilation
  • Surges, but no dilation
  • An overwhelming urge to push, but low or no dilation

What to do?

The only way to know if you have CST is to be examined for it. Women seeking an examination should inquire with their healthcare provider about whether they are able to perform a treatment (if necessary).

2 Tension & Stress

Though a woman’s body is naturally designed for birth, tension and stress could inhibit the process. If a woman is putting too much physical strain on her body during pregnancy, her labor could see such restrictions. Working long hours at a desk, for example, are postural restrictions and can affect a labor’s outcome.

What to do?

Labor is without a doubt strenuous enough on the body, so it’s best to put yourself in a position of relaxation and comfort. Below are four specific techniques to aid this relaxation.

1 Malposition of Baby

You may be ready to give birth and your contractions may be strong and close, but then, out of nowhere, they begin to slow down. You may be both mentally and physically ready to push, but your baby might not be. Sometimes when your baby is not in the proper fetal position, it won’t fit into the pelvic brim. 

In these types of cases, which mainly consist of posterior and asynclitic positions, labor wants to commence, but the uterus is unable to get the baby down into the pelvis.

What to do?

Focus on engaging with your baby by following these techniques:

  • Sit on a firm birthing ball and perform rapid hip circles or figure 8’s
  • Perform slow and controlled lunges
  • Abdominal lifts (as mentioned above)

Truth be told, the only person controlling how your labor will go is your baby. The best way prepare for this life-changing journey is to educate yourself as much as possible. Prenatal preparation and education is vital to ensuring a safe as well as comfortable birth experience.

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