Partner's Guide to Labor

Slow Starting Labor

A slow starting labor is the labor that seems to be trying to start, but isn't really picking up any steam. Maybe the mother has been having contractions on and off for a few days, or has been having contractions for several hours with no change in their length or frequency. These non-labor contractions, called Braxton-Hicks contractions, can be annoying, discouraging and for some women, uncomfortable.

Because the labor and birth process includes many changes that happen in the body, it is impossible to know why a particular labor is slow to start. Even if you did know the reason for the slow labor, there may be nothing you can do to speed labor. The best you can do is to make good decisions about how to handle the situation you are given. If possible, try to eliminate causes by working through some of the suggestions below.

Hormone Levels Not Ready

One reason a labor may be slow to begin is the hormone levels have not had a chance to properly adjust yet. It is the change in progesterone and estrogen levels that make the uterus sensative to oxytocin in the body. If the hormones have not adjusted yet, even artificial oxytocin (Pitocin) will not be effective at begining contractions. There is no way to be certain a slow to start labor is caused by hormones levels that are not yet adjusted.

Because this situation prevents the uterus from responding effectivly to oxytocin, even using artifical stimulation of contractions may not be able to start your labor in a reasonable amount of time. Some women have found that thumb sucking or stimulating other accupressure points can be effective at speeding laor. If all other options for causing a slow to start labor have been exhausted, the mother may simply need to give her body the time it needs to adjust the hormone levels.

Cervix Not Ready

In response to hormonal changes, the cervix begins to soften so it can be stretched and opened during contractions. If the cervix is not "ripe" it cannot be opened by even the strongest contractions. Her body may need more time to wash the cervix in prostaglandins (compounds that soften the cervix) to allow it to stretch.

Because the cervix will respond to prostaglandins, it may be possible to speed up this part of labor preparation. There are artificial There is no garuntee these prostiglandins will reach the cervix or have any effect.

Poor Postion of Baby

Some slow to start and slow moving labors are caused by the baby being in a poor position on the cervix. When this happens, the baby's head is not able to put equal or adequate pressure to the cervix and so even powerful contractions are not effective at opening the cervix.

The best remedy is to change positions, particularly in ways that allow the pelvis to move. It may be smart to try lunges with one leg up on a chair or one-legged squats for a few contractions to see if this allows the baby enough room to slide into a better position. Walking can also be very effective at helping the baby get into a good position.

Artificially stimulating stronger contractions, such as with pitocin or natural remedies, may cause stronger contractions which cause the baby to become wedged into the pelvis in the bad position.

Mother Not Emotionally Ready

Mothers may have more control over their labor than they know. When a woman is unsure of her ability to be a mother, fearful of the labor process, or simply does not feel ready to labor, her body can send chemical messages that block the labor process from starting.

It is important the mother be honest about her fears and concerns so her labor support can help her through any doubts she may have about becoming a mother. This is very difficult to deal with once labor has begun, but sometimes it is necessary for the mother to speak these fears even then.

Dehydrated Mother

Dehydration can bring on pre-labor contractions. One of the first things you should do when you think you might be in labor is to drink at least a sip of water between each contraction. Dehydration can also cause contractions that look very similar to labor, but will not make changes to the cervix. If, after several hours of a contractions that look as if they should be productive, it is determined that the cervix has had very little or no change, review the amount of water and ice chips the mother has had.