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5 Ways to Get Through a Long Labor

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Updated July 17, 2014

Newborn and Mother
Photo © iStockPhoto

While the average length of a first labor is typically 12-18 hours, not including inductions, there are labors that last longer. Some labors last longer because of physical issues, the baby moving into a better position, mom’s body opening. Other labors are longer because of emotional issues like fear of your surroundings or of becoming a parent, or that your husband won’t make it on time. These can be very real things. For the women who have to deal with lengthy labors, it sounds like it’s a lot of pain.

Though having had seven labors of my own, I’ve had a wide variety of times: (in order) 36 hours, 45 hours, 8 hours, 11 hours, 4 hours, 2-3 hours, and 45 hours. The easiest labor was actually my 45 hour labors. The reason? Because I managed my labor as well as I could. And I’ve also seen it happen many other times in my time as a doula. I think it's also important to remember that "long" is defined differently by everyone. If you are being told that you're having a long labor and some intervention is suggested, as questions and get information before deciding how to proceed, sometimes "long" isn't a problem, just something to cope with for you and your team. Though many interventions have potential complications that can come with them and may or may not actually speed up the process. So here are tips on making the most of a longer labor:

  • Don’t focus on the clock.
    It’s so tempting when you’re in labor to look at the clock. How long have I been doing this? How much longer will I be doing this? When will I get to hold my baby? These are all valid questions, but questions that ultimately keep you from focusing on the work of labor which is what gets you to the end. If you can remove the clocks near you, have them turned around or cover them.

  • Stay home as long as possible.
    In your own home, you are most comfortable. You can move freely around, watch television, play on your computer and sit in your baby’s room. These are all the comforts of home. You also have your own bathroom and tub or shower, you can eat and drink to comfort. It is much easier to pass the time in your own surroundings and it can help prevent your labor from stalling by going to the hospital too early. An early labor plan can also be beneficial here.

  • Go with the flow.
    As crazy as it may sound – follow your labor’s lead. In longer labors, there tend to be parts that are slower and more calm. This is the opportunity to rest and even nap. Most women don’t think about this and often view this slow down as a bad thing, when what it usually is is the ability of your body to sense that you need a small break before continuing. Take advantage of these breaks whenever possible.

  • Use comfort measures early and often.
    By the time I was having baby number three and I was anticipating a very long labor, I really wanted everyone to rest up to support me “when I really needed it.” After an hour or two of trying to go it alone, I was agitated and in pain. I finally let people help me relax and rub my back and help me out. Oh, labor was so much easier. A few hours later when I figured out it wasn’t going to be three more days of labor, it finally all made sense. Staying calm all the way through took less energy and made me more relaxation, helping labor progress. Also don’t forget to move around often, this can many times be what you need when labor is taking awhile. It helps protect your joints and skin from being in one position too long.

  • Start labor off right.
    When you first realize you’re in labor, the best advice is to ignore it. Remind yourself of why you can’t be in labor yet. You know the list I’m talking about: I can’t be in labor because I haven’t washed all of the baby’s clothes. I can’t be in labor yet it’s not the date I picked. I can’t be in labor yet my favorite gown is not packed. But remember to take your time. For most women there is no need to rush. Just casually go about getting ready and enjoying these last few hours of pregnancy.

And when all else fails, prepare by reading: 6 Ways to Speed Up a Slow Labor

So the next time you’re having a baby and baby seems to be taking his or her time, remember, there is a reason and it’s up to you to handle the labor in a constructive manner that benefits you and your baby.

Readers Respond: Making Your Labor Work for You

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