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Partner's Guide to Labor

Slow Labor

There are many reasons a labor may proceed slower than average. A slow labor is not a problem in itself, and many normal labors proceed slower than average (hence, giving us an average). It is possible a labor is slow due to an underlying issue. If so, there may be something you can do to speed the labor.

Baby's Position

The first thing to consider is the position of the baby. If the baby is not resting well on the cervix, or sitting off-center on the pelvis, he may not be able to put adequate pressure on the cervix to dilate it. In this case, changing position every 20-30 minutes while focusing on positions that move the pelvis may help to change the baby's position. Some positions to try may include:


A mother who is not adequately hydrated can experience contractions that look and feel like labor, but do not do the work of opening the cervix. Helping the mother rehydrate herself can help calm a non-productive contraction pattern.


The next thing to consider is how rested the mother is. If it has been a long labor, or started before she had an adequate night's rest, fatigue may be causing the labor to slow. In this case, it would be best to find a position that allowed the mother to rest or sleep between contractions. Such a position might be lying on her side or leaning over the end of the bed.

Another possible cause for a slow labor is a mother who is not mentally in the labor. A mother who mentally refuses to labor, by busying herself with entertaining the people with her or distracting herself in other ways will have a very slow progress. This is not the same as ignoring contractions as long as possible. You can mentally allow your body to labor, while ignoring what is happening. Or you can mentally disallow your body to labor while ignoring what is happening. The difference is not in what you do, but your attitude. The mother must be willing to allow the labor to progress.

Ineffective Contraction Pattern

If a slow labor occurs in the hospital, the midwife will want to assess the contraction pattern to ensure the contractions are strong enough and frequent enough to do the work to open the cervix. If she determines the contraction pattern is not effective, she will explain what concerns her about the pattern and what options may be available to try and improve the pattern. These options will vary depending on cervical dilation, position of the baby, specific contraction pattern and other factors about the birth. As a labor support person, you can assist the mother through this process by encouraging her to ask questions about the situation, what options are available and expected outcomes of each option. You can also provide her a place to talk through her decision about what options she would like to try.

After going through the possibilities for a cause to the slow progress of labor, you may find that nothing has changed and the labor continues slowly. In that case, relax and understand labor does not need to fit the confines of average to be normal or healthy. If the baby is doing well and the mother is doing well, then the body is doing what it needs to do to get the baby out. Labor does not always fit neatly within a textbook time slot.