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When Labour Stalls. 4 Ways To Manage A Stalled Labour.

birthing parent labouring in water

Back in 1999, when I was having my first baby, goodness that makes me feel old, during my labour, I got stuck at 6 cms. My labour, which was induced, was chugging along, my waters had been broken and pitocin was flowing, but after a lot of hours I was still sitting at 6 cms, and my cervix was now swollen because I had been pushing against it with each contraction. Eventually after a transfer of care from the Midwife to the amazing Dr Hew, some interventions and time, I was able to get to fully dilated and start pushing.

A stalled labour is not uncommon these days and here are 4 ways to manage a stalled labour, should it happen to you.

1. Change Up How And Where You Labour:

When labour has stalled out, either your contractions have fizzled out, or you are stuck at a certain dilation for a long period of time, change things up. This could be either changing positions. Such as, if you were sitting on a ball, try standing up and walking around. If you were laying in bed, try getting out of bed or laying on a different side. If you have been sitting or laying down, try getting up and walking, add movement to your position and see if that helps.

Tip: Each time you change positions, your contractions will intensify. Give yourself, about 3-4 contractions to get a handle on the intensity and if you can't go back to what you were doing before or try something different.

You can also try to change your environment. Sometimes if you are stuck in one room of your house or apartment, it can make things stagnant. If you are in a house, try changing rooms, or even go for a walk outside. If you are in an apartment or condo, try going for a walk in the halls, down to the lobby or even a walk around the block. You don't have to go far, but the movement and change of scenery can do wonders for getting your labour going. If you are in a hospital, and you have been stuck in the room, try walking the halls of labour and delivery. Or even just have a gaze out the window. Change your view from staring at the walls to staring at the view outside.

2. What's Going On In Your Head As You Labour:

One of the biggest issues we have with a stalled labour can come from the thoughts and visions in your head. Things such as, "I can't do this any longer." "I want this to stop." "When is this going to end." "I don't want to push, in case it goes on for hours." "Did we lock the door before we left, someone is going to break in and steal all our baby gear." Those last two were from actual client conversations during labour.

There is a huge mind/body connection that we often fail to acknowledge when it comes to labour. Those limiting, negative or distracting thoughts have such power to change the way your body labours. You tell yourself you want this all to stop and the body, obligingly grants you that wish by slowing your contractions down or allowing them to fizzle out. These last two thoughts I listed could increase your stress levels, thus allowing adrenaline to begin flowing which will block your natural flow of oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions and makes them stronger.

Tip: For more information on how stress can affect your labour read my previous blog article here:

For partners and support people, when labour stalls out, have a conversation with the labouring parent and see if there is anything they are worried about or need to talk about. You need to be a safe place for them to verbally vomit out all the garbage in your head and allow labour to flow. You don't necessarily have to solve anything, but hearing them assuring them that they are safe and loved and that this will all be over at some point can help.

For the birthing parent, you need to have people around you that you feel safe enough to verbally express how you are feeling. Don't be afraid to cry, or ramble on. Your support people will be there with you to support and help in any way they can.

3. Manage A Stalled Labour By Getting An Epidural:

Hear me out. I know for some, you may have wanted an unmedicated birth. But sometimes there is just so much going on with you and your mind, and where you are labouring. Maybe you are exhausted and now your body waring with itself, trying to give you rest but also keep moving forward. Sometimes getting an epidural and getting some rest can be just what you need to finish this birth with all you have.

With my own birth that I mentioned above, the obstetrician had come in and began talking about doing a cesarean birth since I was stalled and my cervix was swelling. When she mentioned that, I burst into tears. I mean ugly cry. I had tried so hard and everything was going the complete opposite of what I wanted. I remember the OB, physically taking a step back from the bed and said, "Okay, why don't we try and epidural and get you some rest and we'll see what happens."

I got the epidural, I managed to sleep for hours, and when I woke up I was fully dilated. It was just what I needed. It was like pressing a rest button or taking my mind out of the equation and allowed my body to do what it needed to do. I think sometimes people can be afraid of epidurals, but it is just a tool available to you that can sometimes help when you need it.

4. Is Labour Stalled Or Is Your Body Giving You A Rest?

I often see new doulas, messaging Facebook groups asking how to speed labour up. Especially in early labour or at the end of labour before pushing. It is entirely possible that labour has not stalled at all, but is just giving you a break before things take off. In early labour, your body may be gearing up for active labour to begin, when contractions intensify and become harder, the body can give you a rest to gain some energy back. The calm before the storm if you will. In later labour, before pushing starts, the same thing is happening. Contractions can slow down or space out to give you some breathing room before the intensive energy needed for pushing.

Look at these times not as your body fizzling out, but as a welcome intermission before the big show. During this time, have something to drink, or eat if this is early labour. Get into a comfortable position and make sure you and your support people have what they need for when things really take off. Including ice chips and cold cloths for pushing, as well as a charged camera or phone to take pictures when baby is born.

So remember, if your labour has stalled or your contractions are fizzling out, think about what is happening. Support people, talk to the birthing parent and see if there is anything they need or offer suggestions on positions, changes of scenery or if they just need a rest. Labour doesn't have to be complicated, sometimes we just have to ask the questions of "what's going on?"


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