You've carried your child in your belly for nine long months and now the time has come to bring him into the world. Having a baby can be a wonderful experience if everything runs smoothly, but it can also be very painful and frustrating if labor is seeming to take forever.
In this article I will explain to you a little bit about what to expect with your labor, how long a normal labor should last, and what you can do if you need to know how to make contractions stronger and more effective.
When Does Labor Actually Start?
It may come as a surprise to many first time mothers to learn that a woman can have contractions without actually being in labor. The contractions may be quite painful and may have been going on for a long time.
According to doctors, the first stage of labor actually begins when you are having regular, painful contractions in addition to your cervix being dilated to 4 cm and expanding even further.
How Long is a Normal Labor?
For first time mothers, the average length of the active first stage of labor is usually somewhere around eight hours, give or take. First time mothers have been known to have lengthier labors than seasoned moms, but it should not take longer than 18 hours.
Those mothers who have given already birth before can generally expect a shorter labor than with their first baby. The active first stage of labor lasts around an average of five hours for experienced moms.
Now take into considering that these expected duration are general rules of thumb and not exact science. The exact time that it takes any labor can vary though very few last longer than 14 hours.
The active second stage (or pushing phase) of labor will last an average of three hours for first time moms and around two hours for seasoned moms.
What is a Slow Labor?
During active labor, you may experience hours of slow or little progress, followed by periods of faster progress. The important thing to note here is that the labor is progressing in severity and occurrence speed over time
During a healthy labor, a doctor or midwife will assess how things are progressing around every four hours or so. She will also be checking the dilation of your cervix at this time. However, if you experience any complications, your doctor may increase the monitoring to include an ultrasound.
Your doctor will typically monitor your baby's heartbeat using a Doppler held in her hand or she will strap an electric heartbeat sensor on your belly. In addition to the heartbeat sensor, your doctor will also attach a sensor that measures contraction.
If your cervix is not dilating at a rate of at least 0.5 cm per hour over a four-hour period, then your labor may be progressing too slowly. Your doctor may begin to discuss options to speed up the labor by strengthening your contractions.
What Causes a Slow Labor?
What exactly determines the strength of contractions and the length of labor is not always known. While there are some factors, such as diet or physiology, that may play a role, some labors are long for no particular reason. However, some of the top reasons for slow and long labors include:
You are dehydrated;
You are exhausted;
You feel especially nervous or anxious (which can cause an interference in the release of labor hormones);
Your baby is positioned awkwardly;
You have a tall and narrow pelvis which has caused the baby to settle into a posterior (back-to-back) position;
Your contractions are infrequent or not strong enough.
How to Make Your Contractions Stronger?
A long and slow labor can be extremely frustrating, painful, exhausting, and even dangerous (if lasting more that 18 hours). Luckily your doctor may have a few tricks up his sleeve and you may be able to help move things along yourself.
If your contractions are not strong or frequent enough or your cervix has not expanded enough, your doctor may choose to rupture your water. Using a special instrument (amnihook), he will gently scrape at the membrane until it tears and water bursts out.
If breaking your water doesn't induce labor then your doctor may decide to try a hormone drip next. A hormone drip will contain Syntocinon (artificial labor hormone, oxytocin).
Having your body stimulated by a hormone drip may induce contractions that are very strong and very frequent. This process may cause immense pain and distress to you and your baby, therefore your doctor should offer you an epidural before the drip begins.
Your doctor may suggest you try to move things along at home while you wait for the right time to head to the hospital. These suggestions have been known to both strengthen contractions and to get contractions to start to begin with.
Walking - Walking may be the easiest home remedy there is for inducing or speeding up labor. The gravity and swaying movement from walking can help to wiggle the baby into the pelvic area. As your baby presses against the cervix, you will experience faster and stronger contractions. Be sure to drink lots of water and keep up a gentle, natural pace that will help your baby find a rhythm.
Change Positions - Just like with the walking, changing positions can help shift your baby down into the right spot. Some positions you can try include getting down on hands and knees, standing and squatting, resting on a work-out ball, and propping one leg up.
Change the Environment - If changing positions doesn't help, you should consider modifying your environment. You may feel more anxious if the lights are too bright or there is too much noise. Try playing some soothing music or lighting a soft scented candle to ease the mood.
Cinnamon Tea - Place one cinnamon stick in boiling water. Boil it for 15 - 20 minutes. Let it steep for an additional 5 - 10 minutes and sweeten to taste with honey or sugar. There is limited research to support that drinking cinnamon tea will induce labor, although many moms swear by the practice.
To Wrap Up…
I hope you have a better idea of what to expect with your labor and what you can do to make contractions stronger and more effective. If you have any questions or concerns that you would like to see addressed in future articles, please leave a comment below!