Happy New Year! Thank you to all of you, especially our regular readers – we are now embarking on our second year of musings about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting. I welcome any comments you may have and suggestions on topics you are interested in exploring with me.
To close out last year, students from our fall series welcomed their child on December 31st. They had what might be a record for longest labor from one of our students…51 hours! This family labored for 2 days and 3 hours…our hats are off to them for making the decisions they needed to make in order to have a Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby outcome. As a plus, they got to have a vaginal birth for mom and baby – always a “yeah!” for the options that are still available to them if they should choose to have another baby.
Which brings me to today’s topic of how to manage a long labor, what we refer to in class as “the marathon”. We share that there is no way of knowing how long your labor is going to be until you are holding your baby and you look back to count the hours. There are signs that may help you identify if you are having a labor or a sprint, and Bruss would say it’s the coach’s job to evaluate and help mom manage her labor.
I will reiterate – if your contractions start at 15+ minutes apart…chances are you are going to be in labor for more than 24 hours. Looking back at our students’ birth stories, those who went into labor naturally and put off interventions when this was the case had marathon labors. There is nothing wrong with taking longer – you are not broken, your body will not fail you. The hardest part in my labors was waiting so long to meet our children – I just wanted to hold and nurse them already!
If your contractions start at 15+ minutes apart, here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Eat something nutritious with protein and carbs. Continuing eating
until you lose your appetite; or if you don't want to eat, drink
something with trace minerals or electrolytes.
- Sleep, or at a minimum, get some horizontal rest. Put away the clock
and go back to bed until you can't ignore your contractions anymore.
- Evaluate your emotional state to remove any non-physical factors that
might drag out your labor even longer.
- Fill your mind with affirmations that reassure you that you are okay,
baby is okay, and that you are committed to allowing your body and
your baby to work together for the labor your baby needs. (see below
- Keep vaginal exams to a minimum so that you minimize your risk of
- Stay hydrated to allow your hormones to flow effectively through your
When you see that you are setting up for a marathon, it will be so much easier if you can brace yourself for the longest possible outcome and then be pleasantly surprised if your’ baby arrives within 24 hours. Acceptance is one of the ways to avoid unnecessary pain in labor. Embracing your birth for what it is instead of what you thought or wanted it to be; accept that your body is giving you time to accept motherhood and time to ease into the hard work of labor.
Besides acceptance, I would say the second key is to take one contraction at a time. The first ones are easy. By the time we had our fourth labor, we didn’t time them or even keep track of frequency when it was obvious we were twenty minutes apart. By the time they start to get harder though, it’s easy to fall into the “How much longer can I take this?” frame of mind. Coach, it is up to you to keep her focused on the contraction you are having now, and encourage her to close her eyes when it’s over. You want a clear mind to make good decisions and a rested body for the intensity that will mark the end of your labor. You will likely go from a tortoise start to a racetrack finish.
Mother Nature is kind in a quirky way… that is the plus side of these long labors. All of them that we know of, including ours, have incredibly short pushing phases…this weekend’s baby was out in one push, Bryan was out in three, Angélika was out within twenty minutes of me feeling the urge to push. Although it takes so long for body and baby to get serious…once both of them get going, the time when you meet your baby is coming soon!
Here are some things to look for that might indicate that you need to consider other options besides just letting nature take it’s course:
- Is mom showing any signs of infection, namely a fever or is she
shivering from chills?
- How is her blood pressure?
- How is her breathing?
- Does she have a headache?
- Has she had any noticeable swelling within a short time frame?
- Has her energy decreased noticeably within a short time frame?
- Is she experiencing a constant, severe pain instead of one that ebbs
- Is there heavy bleeding before the bag of waters breaks?
- Is there heavy bleeding anytime during labor?
While some of these can be helped with hydration as in several glasses of water (bp, headache, energy), all of them warrant a closer look at mom and baby from your care provider. I am not just talking external fetal monitoring here by an assistant or the nurse. I mean that you should insist that your primary care provider come evaluate mom and listen to your baby.
In our first labor, I did develop a fever, so we made the decision to get some penicillin to head off further infection. When my labor still hadn’t progressed to the point my doctor wanted to see and we were getting closer to the “24 hour” deliver or cut decision, we had a dose of Pitocin which did indeed produce the kind of labor we needed to have a baby vaginally. Did we have a true “natural birth”? No – however, we made decisions to preserve our ultimate goal of “vaginal birth” that would allow us the chance to have a less interventions the next time we were in labor.
From our experience, I will outline these keys to evaluating decisions about interventions in a longer labor:
- Is mom okay?
- Is baby okay?
- What is our ultimate goal?
- What do we need to do to achieve that goal?
The goal of all our Bradley Method® classes is to convey information that leads families to Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby outcomes. If your decisions take you off that path, then think about what your agenda is. Parents who are committed to their children’s well being do not deliberately put them in harm’s way, nor will a loving coach sacrifice one person for another. We encourage each family to evaluate their choices together, to have an open dialogue with their birth team, and then make the decisions they need to make to have a Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby outcome.
What did you do to cope with a long labor?
These are the things that helped me...
My pregnancy affirmations:
A link to my meditation and mantra with our last pregnancy & labor:
"I am safe and my baby is safe. I am well and my baby is well. I am loved and my baby is very, very loved."
Scroll down and see the “Meeting Your Baby” meditation
The material included on this site is for informational purposes only.
It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.
March 5, 2012 to
May 21, 2012
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