How to Help Labor Progress

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Occasionally, especially for first-time mothers, labor can take much longer than anticipated. This is called latent labor and it occurs when labor stalls in the middle of the birthing process. Doctors are still not certain how the full mechanism at the beginning of labor works, but it involves signals that come from your baby to begin the process. There are things you can do that will encourage your body to move from latent labor to active labor, from natural techniques like walking and moving to medical options like inducing labor or breaking your water. However, you should not attempt to induce labor on your own, and you should consult with your physician or midwife before trying anything to speed up your labor.

Preparing for Labor

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    Stay fit during pregnancy. Making sure your body is in top physical condition before labor begins can reduce the likelihood of a prolonged labor. Preparing your body for what's to come can make labor easier and quicker when your baby arrives. Walk or swim regularly, and incorporate a few specialized exercises.[1]
    • Kegels, small internal contractions of the pelvic muscles, can help your body with the pushing stage of labor and also reduce the risk of hemorrhoids in the weeks after childbirth. You can do kegels virtually anywhere. Simply contract the muscles around your vagina, as you would when holding in urine, then hold for four seconds and release. Repeat this 10 times. Three or four sets, done about three times a day, is ideal.[2]
    • The pelvic tilt, also known as the angry cat, can strengthen abdominal muscles and reduce back pain during pregnancy. Get on your hands and knees, keeping your arms straight without locking your elbows. Tighten your abdominal muscles when breathing in and move your buttocks below your back. Relax your back when you breathe out and repeat at your own pace. Move in time to the rhythm of your breath.[3]
    • Squatting helps open your pelvis, important for labor. Stand with a chair facing your back and, using the chair for support, contract abdominal muscles, lift your chest, and relax your shoulders. Lower your tailbone to the floor, as if you were going to sit down on the chair, and then rise again to the standing position.[4]
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    Monitor your weight during your pregnancy. Making sure your body is healthy before delivery is vital to a smooth labor. Nutrition is just as important as exercise. Each woman's body is different, so there's no one-size-fits-all guideline to how much weight you should gain.[5]
    • The adage that you're eating for two is false as your caloric intake does not double. However, you should increase the amount of calories you're eating as your pregnancy progresses.
    • In general, a woman with a BMI between 18.5 and 25.9 should gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. A woman with a BMI higher than this should only gain 15 to 25 pounds. Discuss how much weight you should gain with your doctor and know how much you should increase your caloric intake to achieve this goal.[6] If you are pregnant with twins or multiples, you will probably need to gain more weight; discuss this with your doctor.
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    Follow the food pyramid during pregnancy. Be sure you get plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Focus on whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, and barley. Incorporating dairy will give you plenty of potassium and calcium for you and your baby.[7]
    • Be careful with fats. Stick to heart-healthy fats found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil.[8]
    • Fruits and veggies high in vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and folate are especially good for pregnant women. Try apples, oranges, green beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, pineapple, mangoes, and squash.
    • Zinc is particularly important during pregnancy as its vital in cell development. Chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, dairy products, beans, and peanut butter are all great sources of zinc. Eating fish can also be a great source of protein, but you should avoid fish that may have high mercury levels, such as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark.[9]
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    Rest between your contractions. When your contractions begin, stay calm so you're able to relax in between. This saves up energy for the later and more trying stages of labor.[10]
    • There will be continual breaks between contractions throughout labor. Take advantage of such respites, especially during early labor when contractions themselves are gentler.[11]
    • If possible, sleep between contractions. Practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. Have reading and viewing material on-hand so there's something present to distract you and help you relax during the process.[12]

Trying Natural Options

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    Consult with your doctor or midwife first. Even though activities such as having sex or trying an herbal supplement may seem harmless, in some cases they could cause harm to you or your baby. Before trying any natural option to help labor progress, ask your doctor or midwife. She will help you decide whether there are safe, effective options for you.
    • If you ever have questions, or even just feel frustrated about your pregnancy seeming to take so long, talk to your doctor or midwife. These professionals are used to the concerns and questions pregnant women have and are happy to talk with you about them.
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    Try walking. Walking is one of the most popular activities to help labor progress and to start labor. Gravity is the main reason walking works. The baby is drawn down towards your pelvis and this primes your cervix for labor. The swaying rhythm of walking pushes your baby's head against your cervix, simulating the release of oxytocin. This hormone can trigger contractions.[13]
    • Walking can also help build muscle and increase physical fitness, making labor faster and less painful.
    • Slow, gentle walking is ideal. Do not go too far or push yourself too hard physically in the late stages of labor. An easy stroll around the block is probably adequate.
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    Have sex, if possible. Sex can be difficult in the late, late stages of pregnancy, particularly if labor has already begun. However, certain hormones released during sexual activity may speed up labor, although little evidence to support this exists.[14] Because certain pregnancy complications can make nipple stimulation or sex unsafe for your baby, you should always discuss this option with your doctor or midwife before trying it.
    • Penetration can stimulate your body to release prostaglandins, a hormone that helps dilate the cervix, prepping your body for delivery. Stimulation of the breasts and nipples or orgasm can also trigger the release of oxytocin, which may trigger contractions.[15]
    • Remember, sex is only safe if your water has not broken yet. Once your water breaks, sex could lead to an infection that could complicate labor and delivery.
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    Move around during labor. Oftentimes, if your labor has been latent for a long time, walking, moving, or even switching the position you're lying in can help get things moving again.
    • Moving is a great way to help you cope with the pain of labor. Walking, shifting in bed, and standing up keep your body rested and refreshed and help save energy for the final pushes.
    • Movement also wiggles the baby around, helping it move towards your pelvis and ultimately push through your birth canal.
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    Take a warm bath. If you're giving birth at home or haven't left for the hospital yet, a warm bath may help you feel more comfortable. However, there is no evidence that a warm bath will help labor progress.[16]
    • Make sure the water completely covers your stomach and breasts as this will provide the most pain relief.
    • Contractions are less painful for many women in water and often the soothing sensation of being in a tub helps women relax and rest in between contractions.
    • Water also makes it makes it easier for you to move around and change positions. As stated, movement during labor helps it progress.
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    Eat and drink during labor. The muscles surrounding your uterus need a lot of hydration and nutrition to successfully deliver an infant. Eating well in the weeks leading up to labor, and in its early stages, can help labor progress quickly.
    • Many doctors do not recommend eating during labor due to the risks associated with food being in the digestive track if emergency anesthesia is needed. Ask your doctor about their policies beforehand and, if eating is not allowed, have a light snack before leaving for the hospital.
    • You may also find that a clear liquid diet, involving a warm broth or jello, is helpful. Most hospitals will allow laboring patients to consume clear liquids.
    • Labor is shorter when you snack during the process. Women allowed to eat during labor had labor times of 45 to 90 minutes less of those who did not. Laboring is difficult and requires fuel in the form of foods and liquids especially during the final pushes.
    • Stick to bland but filling foods, like toasts with jam, plain pasta, applesauce, and jell-o. As for liquids, go for clear broth, water, and ice chips. These foods are easy to digest and tend not to increase nausea or stomach discomfort.
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    Avoid "old wives' remedies." Several "natural" ways to induce labor circulate on the internet, but none of them have significant research backing, and some can be actively harmful. It is best to avoid these and consult with your doctor or midwife about proven, safe, and effective ways to speed up labor.[17]
    • Castor oil. Castor oil is one of the oldest recommendations when it comes to starting labor naturally, but there is no evidence that it works, and it can make you very sick. The American Association of Family Physicians does not recommend that you use castor oil to induce labor.[18]
    • Herbal supplements. These commonly include evening primrose oil, black or blue cohosh, red raspberry leaves, and black haw. They do not have much evidence to support their use, and herbal remedies may interfere with other medical conditions or medications you're taking.[19]
    • Acupuncture. Acupuncture is not supported as an effective way to induce or progress labor.[20]

Using Medical Intervention

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    Have your water broken. A midwife or doctor might recommend breaking your water manually if labor is slow. It is unlikely your water would be broken during the early stages of labor, as this increases the risk of infection. If things have slowed during active labor, however, breaking your water might get the process moving.[21]
    • You will move your bottom to the edge of the hospital bed. Your doctor will examine you using a gloved hand. If necessary, she will use medical instruments to scratch the membrane around your baby until water flows out.[22]
    • The procedure is not painful but can be uncomfortable. Contractions will become much stronger and quicker after your water is broken.[23]
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    Ask your doctor about a hormone drip. A hormone drip can encourage your contractions to speed up and become more effective. This will push you from latent labor to active labor.[24]
    • Pitocin, an artificial form of natural hormones released during labor, will be used in your hormone drip.[25]
    • Your baby must be monitored more closely during this process as pitocin can cause very strong, very frequent contractions that can distress the baby.[26]
    • An epidural may be administered before the hormone drip is put in place. You may need pain medication due to the increased intensity of labor, although plenty of women also give natural childbirth using pitocin.[27]
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    Ripen your cervix. The cervix can be widened in one of two ways. This speeds up the process of labor and increase the rate of contractions.[28]
    • Synthetic hormones that stimulate cervix dilation can be taken orally or placed inside the vagina.[29]
    • The cervix can be dilated manually with balloon-shaped medical catheters, which is why this is sometimes referred to as the "balloon method."[30]
    • As with most methods of medical induction, your baby's heart rate and vital signs will be monitored more closely afterwards to assure there are no complications.[31]
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    Induce labor medically. Inducing labor is usually done at the recommendation of your doctor or healthcare provider. While a wait-and-see approach is usually preferable, a doctor might want to induce labor for one of the following reasons. She will discuss her reasons with you to help you make the best choice.
    • If you're two weeks past your due date, the doctor might be concerned about the baby getting bigger. This makes delivery more difficult and increases the risk of complications.The risk of stillbirth also doubles when you are two weeks or more past the due date.[32]
    • If your water breaks but contractions don't follow, your doctor may want to induce to minimize risk of infection for you and your baby.[33]
    • Medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, put you and your baby at risk for health issues. Your doctor might want to induce.[34]
    • Any sort of infection is grounds to induce labor.[35]
    • In rare cases, the placenta comes undone from the wall of the uterus. This can cause complications and if it occurs your doctor will probably want to induce.[36]
    • Purely elective inductions should not be performed prior to 39 weeks gestation, as there can be complications to the baby.

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