Failure to progress in labor is a term doctors use to mean a woman’s labor is taking longer than it should because the woman’s cervix is not dilating and the baby is not descending into the birth canal.
But does failure to progress in labor mean a C-Section is needed?
Not necessarily. Many women experience failure to progress and still have vaginal births. However, if your labor stalls and complications occur, that’s when a C-Section becomes necessary.
We’ll start with what causes failure to progress, what happens that would lead to having a C-Section and some things you might be able to do that could decrease stalling labor that could prevent having a C-Section.
Things That Cause Failure to Progress in Labor
If your labor is is not progressing as normal, it doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or that you are a failure as a woman. There are a number of things that can stall your labor, for example, poor contractions, positioning of the baby, drugs you’ve been given, etc. There are even some common things that are done during labor that can actually slow the labor process down.
- Weak Contractions. Good strong contractions are measured by how hard your abdomen feels and they occur about every 2-4 minutes. Less strength in your abdomen and contractions spaced very far apart are an indication of weak contractions. If contractions are weak and slow, doctors will sometimes recommend speeding them up by breaking your water which softens the cervix. If this doesn’t improve the progression of labor, then Pitocin is given to increase contraction strength. The downside to administering Pitocin is that it creates significantly stronger contractions which can cause fatigue in mom and fetal distress which more often than not leads to a C-Section.
- Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD). A big word that means narrow pelvis. But just because you have a narrow pelvis doesn’t necessarily mean you have CPD. Cephalopelvic disproportion is how well your baby engages into the birth canal. If your baby cannot engage properly, CPD can be a problem. However if baby’s head does become engaged a vaginal birth can be possible with forceps or vacuums.
- Baby is Breech. A breech position can greatly slow down the progression of labor. Most breech births make it impossible for a mother to deliver vaginally and are an automatic C-Section.
- The baby is large and the birth canal is small. This is a common occurrence for many moms. Here’s a good explanation of what it means to have a larger baby and the health risks.
Things That Can Lead Up To Failure to Progress
- Hospital policy. Hospitals can greatly influence how your labor progresses. There are hospitals that strongly influence laboring moms to stay in bed. There are also hospitals that have high C-Section rates. It’s a good idea to look into what your hospital policy is and what their C-Section rates are before labor begins.
- Moms physical condition and energy levels – If you’re in bad physical condition and have no energy, you’re going to give into whatever is easiest.
- Moms level of fear – If you’re fearful or anxious this can play a part in your progression. Nothing can progress well if your fears and anxieties are taking over.
Problems that can occur from failure to progress in labor
A failure to progress in itself isn’t dangerous, but it can cause problems for baby. Things like:
- Slowing down of the heartbeat or beating becomes abnormal
- Low oxygen levels
- Abnormalities in the amniotic fluid
When these things occur your baby will experience fetal distress. Distress to your baby, regardless of how it came to be, will always mean a C-Section unless it can be immediately resolved.
Preventing Failure to Progress in Labor
If your labor is not progressing as it should it’s not something that you did wrong or means that you are a failure. A failure to progress is not completely avoidable but there are things that might work in your favor. Things like:
- Don’t allow induction of labor unless it is medically necessary. There is over a 35% failure to progress rate if your labor is induced. So if it’s not medically necessary, request that it not be done. Pitocin is the drug used to induce labor but Pitocin induction is also linked to increased C-Section rates.
- Eat and drink as needed. Labor is hard work so don’t let yourself get tired. Eat and drink to keep your strength and help your body work efficiently.
- Keep Moving. Don’t stay on your bed in one position. If you can keep moving you have a better chance of positioning your baby into position for birth. Find positions that will help you make good positioning possible.
- Avoid an epidural. An epidural will relieve the pain from your contractions but once you receive the drug you can’t move around and it’s only after getting an epidural that many women experience failure to progress. Not all, but many do.
- Rest Often. In the early stages of labor get as much rest as you can. This will help you conserve your strength and maintain your energy levels.
- Use a Doula. Employing a professional Doula can help you with fear and anxiety and also with your pain. A Doula is not the same as using a midwife, her job is aid and support you. Where you may feel uncomfortable asking your doctor questions she can take those questions and get answers for you. A Doula can play an integral part in the success and progress of your baby’s birth.
Failure to progress in labor can’t always be predicted or even avoided, but if you know the causes and what leads up to it, you can avoid the things that may stall your labor and possibly avoid a C-Section.
If you’re hoping to avoid a C-Section, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is a great read! Ina Gaskin talks frankly about the things you need in childbirth, but demonstrates that there are certainly things you don’t need if you’re hoping to have a natural, non-surgical birth. It get’s my thumbs up! The guide is also on Kindle.