Labor and the “Watched Pot”

You know the saying– “A watched pot never boils”. While this may not be a scientific accuracy, standing and watching, waiting for water in a pot to boil seems to take longer than going about other business during the process. If someone is in a hurry for the water to boil, perhaps they throw a little salt into the pot, add a lid, or some other trick.

Regarding labor, continual watching, assessing, and intervening to speed up the process can also make labor seem longer. Scientifically, stress can slow down labor or make it stop altogether. When labor seems to be taking longer than a hospital’s policy, an impatient provider’s desire to move on to other tasks, or rules outlined in a book, interventions may be suggested. Throw a little Pitocin (salt) into the laboring woman (pot).  Break her water. Move to a cesarean section even though mom and baby are not in distress. Diagnose “failure to progress”.

What, then, can be done to avoid or lessen the chance of a longer, “stalled” labor? As in waiting for water to boil, staying active and busy can help things move along. Here are some tips:

  • Stay at home as long as possible, if you are having a hospital birth. This remedies the careful “watching” by continuous or intermittent fetal monitoring, pressure to have continual vaginal exams, and unnecessary interventions, like Pitocin to “speed things along”.
  • Recognize that each woman labors at her own pace, as necessary for herself and her baby. Some women have fast labors, others do not. A recent study recommended waiting simply two hours before performing a C-section for “failure to progress”. You can watch this OB/GYN explain why here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aEk–fIZAo

  • Having too many people waiting for you to birth. For some women, having all of their family and friends is a help to them; for others it puts the pressure on to speed labor along — even if it’s a subconscious pressure. Choose those who understand the birth process may take a while, or wait until labor has progressed a good bit before letting everyone know.
  • Avoid unnecessary induction of labor. When your body is not going into labor on its own, you virtually guarantee labor may take longer. Artificially stimulating contractions will at the least, ensure you are in the hospital from the first contraction, usually hooked up to monitors, IV’s, and subject to frequent checks to see how the induction/labor is going.
  • Stay active! For some women, going about their regular routine until it is interrupted by the strength of contractions makes the experience much less stressful. Taking a walk (outside, even!), bouncing on a birthing ball, rocking in a rocking chair, slow-dancing with your partner are all wonderful ways to keep your body moving.
  • Distraction. When it’s time to sit or lie down, employ relaxation, meditation, watch a favorite movie and snuggle with your partner, receive a massage from your partner, mom, doula, try some breathing techniques
  • Relax. Use birth affirmations, voice your fears or concerns, as you are in active labor use a shower or bath and let the water relax, breathe deeply, think lovingly of you and your baby working together.
  • Remove clocks. Ask your partner or doula to occasionally time contractions to know when you should head to your birth place (hospital, birth center).  Your baby will be born as your body and baby requires; watching a clock will not make things go any faster and could cause you unnecessary stress and concern.
  • Honor your birth area. Make it as homey and comfortable as you can. Close your hospital door, play music, turn phones off, keep unnecessary people out.
  • Try to enjoy each stage and phase. There are so many horror stories about how long labor took, how painful it was, and many times the stories increase in severity each time they are told. Remind yourself that this is a very, very special day! You will soon meet your baby. Oh, and those difficult contractions? With each passing one, you are a step closer to holding your baby in your arms. Remind yourself to relax and take one contraction at a time.
  • Understand that as labor progresses, hormones, adrenaline, and more create a “love cocktail” to prepare you to mother, bond with, and nurse your baby. This love cocktail will increase and peak as necessary to help you cope with labor.

Believe in yourself, believe in your body, believe in your baby. In most cases, labor will progress exactly as it is supposed to. After the birth you can discuss the progress with your partner and support people to process and preserve those memories.

All Rights Reserved, Knoxville Doula, Kimberly Sebeck 2010

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