How to Cope with a Long Labor

Updated: Feb 10

No one wants a long labor. We have heard the stories, we know the grief and there's nothing reassuring about being in questioning and discomfort for hours or days when you are trying to meet your baby. Some moms are so afraid of a long labor, that they fail to believe it could ever happen to them. Birth is bigger than that! The possibilities are wide and we do not have control over much of it- preparing for all the varieties of labor, while hoping for the best will serve a birthing family well. Today we are sharing our 5 best tips for coping with a very long labor, and 4 of them can be done ahead of time!

Exercise choice: where you choose to birth matters; who you ask to attend you matters even more. There is a huge range of approaches and beliefs towards long and difficult labors. Find out what the limitations and comfort levels are of the setting and care providers you are choosing for your birth. Hospitals often have arbitrary time limits to intervene even if mother and baby are tolerating a long labor well together. Birth centers often have restrictions and policies about time as well. Many midwives have boundaries in comfort and a timeline that may surprise you- you will have to do your research and ask. Knowing how your chosen care provider will assist you in labor is important too- what do they believe causes long labors and how and when do they intervene? In a setting with a care provider that supports long labors as a variation of normal, you will find the most help and positive attitude for your birth if this circumstance comes up.

Learn about birth: education is key in childbirth. Labor and birth are somewhat private topics in our society. Much of what you may hear from well-meaning friends and family are hospital-based birth experiences with many interventions, including pain relief. This is not physiological labor, which operates completely different than medicalized birth. Take a private childbirth class, read natural childbirth books and articles online, get connected to women and families who had natural birth out of the hospital, and listen to podcasts about natural birth. These will be the real experiences to gauge your expectations on. Birth can be very long, very short, very intense, very peaceful and everything in between- knowing what is normal and possible is key.

Bring in extra support: it's never a bad thing to have more help than was needed. We are asked often about who should be at the birth and if a birth doula is necessary. The truth is that many births won't need a plethora of support when they unfold on their own with well-prepared parents, in a comfortable environment with trusting midwives. However, we can't count on this algorithm every time and we believe it's better to have the support of a doula available and not need it than to need it and not have it. As midwives, we provide a ton of coaching, encouragement and hands-on support- but we also need to preserve our wits and energy for keeping the actual birth event and postpartum safe. During very long labors that require all hands on deck, it's so nice to have a doula to rotate in to the supportive measures mix to give dads and other support people a break. And if you don't have a long labor, your doula will still enhance and assist in making your experience a connected and lovely one.

Labor smart: pace yourself when labor begins. You will not know until it's over just how much you needed to give to your birth. When your labor begins, sleep or rest if it's night, and do as much of your normal life during the day as possible. Sometimes the biggest discouragement in long labors comes from the perception of time that has passed- don't start your big work or mental stopwatch too early! Have many easily digestible snacks and beverages on hand. Regular calories and hydration are the most important tools for enduring a lengthy birth process.

Plan to be discouraged: even if labor is not long, it often brings women to a place of doubt and intensity- remember how big birth is? Talk about a course of action for a long labor with your birth team while you are still pregnant. Find a dozen ways to finish the statement, "If my labor is longer or harder than expected we will..." Perseverance and flexibility are key in adjusting to difficult circumstances, set yourself up for an automatic response to a long labor. What are some mantras of phrases that will remind you that your experience is normal and you CAN do it? What would you like your team to do to distract you or emphasize your focus on one contraction at a time? Often mothers need short-term plans in place like, "first we sit on the ball, then we walk up the stairs, then we take a shower." Alternate movement and rest through a variety of mini-plans, and then begin again.

Patience is key with long labors. It is much easier to exercise patience when you and your support team accept and understand the normalcy of a long labor and have tools in place for coping with it. Although staying flexible to what labor may bring is an exercise in patience on it's own, you won't regret approaching labor with a plan for resiliency.

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