What You Should Do If Your Labor Stalls: 11 Helpful Options
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Here are 11 things you can try if your labor stalls to get it back up and going.
Labor is a lot of work and sometimes you don't progress the 'expected' 1 cm per hour and that's ok (that metric is outdated anyways). Sometimes you sit at 3 cm for hours on end and still go from 6 cm to baby in your arms in an hour!
There are plenty of reasons for labor to stall: being medically induced, getting an epidural, fear of labor or pain, lack of privacy, baby’s position, feeling unsafe, PTSD reaction from a prior traumatic birth, history of abuse, etc.
EVERY labor is different, but if you find labor has stalled for any reason, try doing some of these:
#1 Don't Panic!
Stress and anxiety aren't going to help anything. The more you worry about labor stalling, the longer it will stay stalled. Distract, relax, and refocus. We want your body to get some of that natural oxytocin hormone flowing which will pick up contractions AND act as a pain reliever so win win!
#2 Kick out all non essential people from the room
Who is essential? You, your partner, and your doula (sometimes it even helps to take a short break from the doula).
If you have family there that think they are essential, kick them out too. If needed you can delegate an 'important' task to them to go find some obscure product you 'need’ to get them out of the room. If getting your family out is an issue, just have your partner tell the nurses and they will kick everyone out for you. If you have a doula, they can help with this too.
Your family doesn’t need to be banished forever, but you do need some alone time to refocus and relax. It's hard to relax when you have a bunch of people around and you can always invite them back in when you're ready.
Keep in mind that childbirth is not a spectator sport. Everyone in the room should be there with a purpose that serves you. Oxytocin, that hormones that gets everything going, is also present during sex so think about who you want in the room during sex (probably just your partner). Whatever can relax you enough for sex, can relax you enough for labor to keep going.
#3 Lower the Volume
Mood music. Soft, quiet, instrumental music can help you calm down and relax. Think of something like yoga music. I don't recommend using anything with lyrics that you might find your mind singing along to. You want to turn the thinking brain off and tap into the more emotional/instinctual side.
No side conversations. This should be easier now that family is out of the room but your partner or doula can remind the nurses to to take their conversation out of the room and give you some quiet.
No tech. TV off, cell phone away. Those blue screens aren't going to help right now.
#4 Dim the lights
If you can't dim the lights, see how many you can turn off. Bring some battery powered flameless candles for mood lighting. Sexy atmosphere=sexy hormones=birth hormones!!!
#5 Go for a Walk
Even just a quick walk up and down the hall can be helpful. If you're up for it start doing a few laps around the floor or even go outside for some fresh air. Walking around can get baby more engaged and into a better position and any upright position will allow gravity to do some of the work fo you.
#6 Sit/ bounce on an exercise ball
Most hospitals have these but you may want to bring your own to make sure it's the right size for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy either. Something simple like this works fine. If you bring your own, one option is to leave it in the car when you arrive to the hospital. This can be the task delegated to your family to get them out of the room so you can get a break from their chatter.
#7 Get in the shower
Water during labor is AMAZING! Warm water can relax your muscles and the small space of a shower can help block out all the distractions. This is a great tool if you are feeling stressed or anxious. Now it is possible to get too relaxed where that be the cause of labor stalling so be strategic. If you have a doula, they can help you decide the best time to get in or out of the shower.
#8 Go sit on the toilet
Just like being in the shower, sitting on the toilet can help distract you from everything happening "out there" and can help your body relax enough to get things going. Sitting on the toilet, your body automatically will relax your pelvic floor just from repeat conditioning of using the bathroom every day. It's also a space you're usually alone which can help too.
#9 Have your partner or Doula (or both!) give you a massage
Having 4 hands on you for a massage is pretty amazing and can help relive any tension. Specifically focusing on the low back/hips or shoulders can be very helpful.
#10 Nipple Stimulation
Pack your breast pump or kick everyone out for an intimate moment with your partner. We're talking nipple stimulation- don't be trying to have sex in labor at the hospital mmkay? Manual stimulation is best so don’t bring a big electric pump. If you’re going to use a pump (check with your OB or midwife first), just bring a small manual pump like this one. It’s nice to have a manual pump as a back up in case you have any issues with your electric pump if you’re returning to work after baby.
Read some preprinted birth affirmations (like these cards). Remember to keep the blue lights of electronics away.
Remember that your baby WILL come out one way or another. Welcome the contractions instead of resisting them because each one brings you closer to meeting your baby. Surrender to the contractions. You can't avoid them. The only way out is through!
Surrender to labor as it is actually happening and let go of how you THINK it should be happening. Be in the moment in real time.
A Note on Epidurals
Some of these suggestions you'll only be able to do if you don't have an epidural. If you already have an epidural and your labor is now stalled, another helpful tool is a peanut ball between your legs. This can help open the hips and get baby engaged. Your partner/doula/nurses can also help you rotate back and forth in bed to keep your position changing as much as possible.
Slowing labor is a potential side effect of epidurals so be strategic about when you get your epidural. The farther into active labor you are when you get your epidural, the less likely it will be to stall.
Mind over Matter
Mental game in labor is strong. My mom (a long time birth educator and doula herself) always says birth is 90% neck up- it's all in your head! Your thoughts and emotions are steering your body. You can't control the contractions or what your body is doing but you CAN control your thoughts/emotions. Focus on what makes you feel safe and relaxed and your body will follow.
If you've done all of these things and everything is still stalled, what happens next will depend on a few factors- how dilated are you? Has your water already broken? How long have you been in labor? etc. Talk to your provider about their recommendations and I suggest always starting with the least invasive options first. Remember that YOU are in control and YOU make the decisions. Your providers are your hired experts working for YOU. Ask questions. You should know the risks and benefits of all your options and you should always be allowed a moment of privacy to discuss with your partner before giving an answer if you choose an intervention like breaking your water or adding pitocin to get things going.