There's good news and bad news for expectant mothers, according to a new study. While the bad news is that you could be in active labor significantly longer than what was once thought standard, the good news is that longer labor is normal and safe. That means that labor can progress slowly without the need for Pitocin, a drug that helps the uterus contract during labor, or a cesarean section. C-sections come with risks, and in some cases, it appears that patience could help women avoid them.
A new study conducted in Africa, published earlier this month in PLOS Medical Journal, found that normal labor can progress significantly slower than what was considered standard based on data from the 1950s. Past data stated that women in active labor should dilate one centimeter every hour. Anything slower than that rate has historically been considered abnormal and a cause for concern.
However, in the more than 5,500 births researchers analyzed in the new study, the average amount a mother dilated in an hour was closer to one half of a centimeter. These births resulted in positive outcomes with healthy babies delivered vaginally from healthy mothers, with no need for induction medication or a C-section.
In his findings, the lead researcher, Olufemi T. Oladapo, advises against relying on the old idea that a woman must progress at the rate of one centimeter per hour, stating, “The application of population average labor curves could potentially misclassify women who are slowly but normally progressing as abnormal and, therefore, increase their chances of being subjected to unnecessary labor interventions.”
This new study adds to advice given four years ago when a similar study based in the United States found comparable results. Researchers point out, “It may be necessary to revisit the definition of labor dystocia [failure to progress] because recent data show that contemporary labor progresses at a rate substantially slower than what was historically taught.”
It turns out that women might simply need more time.
Expectant mothers should know that they can talk to their doctors about the new study before they go into labor. That way, they can advocate for themselves. There are, of course, many valid medical reasons for a C-section. But with low-risk births where the only hiccup is slow progression, a C-section might be safely avoided.
What Your OB Wants You to Know Before Your C-Section
You are much more likely to deliver a baby via C-section today than even 20 years ago. In fact, the number of times the procedure was performed increased 60 percent from 1996 to 2009. In 2010, the Cesarean delivery rate was a whopping 32.8% of all U.S. births.
So we spoke to two experts on what to expect after a Cesarean birth: Helene Byrne, founder of BeFit-Mom, is a pre- and postnatal health and fitness expert, and author of the award-winning DVD "Bounce Back Fast! Post Natal Core Conditioning" and the book "Exercise after Pregnancy: How to Look and Feel Your Best"; and Dr. Kecia Gaither, maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal outreach at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y.