When Labor Stalls | Fit Pregnancy

When Labor Stalls

Does a stalled labor always lead to a c-section? Understand why labor stalls, and what to do when it does.


Emotional Stress: Underlying emotional or psychological stress can cause labor to stall or slow down. Also known as “emotional dystocia,” this can be anything from an extreme fear of labor pain, not feeling safe, or lack of privacy, to trauma from prior sexual abuse.

If you have any underlying issues you think could impact labor, notify your birth team (partner, doula, doctor, midwife, nurse). They will help you to deal with the emotions coming up during your labor, reassure you of your safety, and support you during the process. 

Baby’s Position: How your baby is positioned for labor can affect the length of your labor. A baby is considered “malpositioned” for birth when she is not positioned facing your back or left side. Correcting the baby’s position could mean an easier, quicker labor. If you or your care providers suspect that your baby’s position is causing issues with your labor, walking and changing positions can help correct this. 

5 Thing You Can Do When Labor Stalls

If labor stalls, take heart in knowing that it’s most likely temporary. If your care provider recommends Pitocin to get your labor going again, find out if it’s necessary. You can ask: Is my baby healthy? Am I healthy? What are the risks in continuing to labor without Pitocin? If you and baby are healthy, you should be free to continue laboring without Pitocin. If your care provider recommends a cesarean, repeat the same questioning. If you and your baby are not in immediate danger but your care provider still recommends a cesarean, consider asking for more time. You can use that time to try some of the following techniques to jumpstart a stalled labor.

1. Rest: If you can manage to rest and if you are not being pressured to get labor going again, take advantage of the time. Labor is hard work and any opportunity you can take to rest will help your body recharge for the rest of your labor and birth. 

2. Walk and Change Position:  Walking and/or changing your position while in labor can work wonders for progression. Gravity and bodily movements can help baby descend and get into a more optimal position for birth. Sometimes, a few good squats are all it takes to cross the threshold of a stalled labor. If you’re lying down, get upright. If you’re sitting on a birth ball, try standing, squatting, or walking around. If you’re experiencing back labor, try stair walking or side lunges. If you are laboring with an epidural, you can still use movement and position changes to help your labor progress. Author and childbirth expert Penny Simkin, PT, developed the “Rollover” movements for an epidural, which is demonstrated beautifully at SpinningBabies.com

Read more: 7 Soothing Labor Positions

3. Consider Nipple Stimulation: Nipple stimulation (by way of rolling your nipples between your thumb and pointer finger or rubbing your nipples with your palm) is a very effective tool for bringing on longer and stronger contractions. Before you begin, be sure you know how long and how often to use nipple stimulation. Your doula or nurse may also be able to provide you with more information on this practice.

4. Change Your Environment:   Sometimes, your environment (especially in the hospital) can cause a mental or emotional block that’s stalling labor. Are the lights too harsh? Is the presence of your mother-in-law disturbing you? Do you want your partner to turn off the television? Are there too many nurses coming in and out? Environmental stimulus can impact the progress of labor. Dimming the lights, asking for some privacy, turning on music, and spraying lavender oil are just some of the ways you can change your environment and enter a more relaxed state.

5. Shower It may take some convincing, but getting into a shower during labor can help you relax and may help intensify contractions. The water and heat release feel-good endorphins, and when you face the water, the stimulation on your nipples releases oxytocin, the hormone responsible for contractions. 

Your best defense in working through or possibly avoiding a stalled labor lies in your choice of care provider. Choosing a doctor or midwife who has a low induction and cesarean rate, and who is comfortable with the variances of progression in a normal labor will increase your chances of a safe, healthy, and positive birth experience. 

By Cara Terreri, Doula and Childbirth Educator at Simple Support Birth and Blog Manager for Lamaze International



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