A recent study by the National Institute of Health found that, on average, the first stage of labor -- the process of the cervix opening from 0 to 10 centimeters -- takes 2.6 hours longer than it did in the 1960s. While researchers can't identify all of the factors causing labors to take longer today, they did find that some current labor and delivery practices have increased a lot in 50 years, including:
- Epidurals were used in more than half of labors in the early 2000s compared to 4 percent of labors in the 1960s.
- Pitocin was used in 31 percent of labors in the early 2000s compared with 12 percent in the 1960s.
So, how are we messing up labor?
The bigger issue is interventions like these, as well as C-sections, are used more routinely now than ever. Sometimes, this causes more problems than longer labors.
This study didn't mention anything about moms' choice of birth place, care provider or how informed she was (or wasn't) about labor and delivery, but as a childbirth educator and doula, I know these choices can make a big difference. When you are relaxed, informed and confident about your body's ability to give birth, the process can go more smoothly.
What can you do to speed up the process?
- Do your homework before you're in labor: Find a healthcare provider who shares the same philosophy you do so hopefully there are no surprises as far as routine intervention you may not want or need. And decide where you'll be most comfortable giving birth -- at a hospital, birth center or your home.
- Take a comprehensive childbirth class: Learn about all your options so you can decide what's best for you when you're in labor.
- Create a birth plan: Not a document that's set in stone, since labor can be unpredictable, but a statement to clarify your wishes for labor and delivery. Be sure to share your thoughts with your partner, care provider and anyone else you're inviting to the birth of your baby.
- Hire a doula: Research shows it may help shorten labor -- and consistent support will help with the relaxation and confidence-building I mentioned, too.
- Don't worry about the clock: Unless there is a medical reason that your doctor or midwife tells you about to make speeding up labor beneficial for you or your baby.
As long as labor is uncomplicated, you have choices and it's usually best to be patient and let labor and delivery evolve naturally with minimal intervention.