Your hospital bag is packed and you’re so over being pregnant. And finally, you have contractions! You’re ready to meet your baby.
But hours later, your labor stalls out. You’re confused, disappointed, or maybe just mad. But what do you do next to get your contractions going again?
This is exactly what happened to me with my fourth child. My fourth labor was different from any other. I know how frustrating it is to have full blown labor just… stop.
My stalled out labor experience
I was 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth child right after New Years. I was absolutely huge with an aching back, constantly exhausted, and in that stage where every twinge made me wonder if “this is it.” I always had Braxton-Hicks contractions for months before my babies came, so I’d (mostly) learned to ignore them.
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But one night, I woke up around 2 AM with what I knew was a real contraction. I had a couple of contractions about twenty minutes apart, but I woke up my husband to let him know because I knew (based on past labors) it was possible that things ramp up quickly from there.
My husband called his parents, who lived just 3 minutes away from the hospital. He got the kids loaded up into the car, and we drove to drop them off at his parents house.
My contractions were still only coming every 10-15 minutes, so I told my husband I wanted to hang at his parents house while we waited for them to crank up. So we stayed in the living room and chatted while I bounced on my birthing ball and timed contractions.
I noticed that the contractions seemed to be slowing down, and I started feeling really tired. I laid down and took a nap for about an hour, and there was only one contraction during that whole time.
When I woke up again around 6:30 AM, I called the OB. I told him my options were either to go to the hospital even though my hours of contractions had stopped, or to go home with my stalled-out labor. He suggested I come by so they could monitor me.
We got to the hospital and I got strapped up to the monitors. I handed over my birth plan, answered the bajillion questions you have to answer when you check into the hospital, and filled out paperwork.
After hours of rolling on a ball, walking the halls, and being monitored, I could tell everything had stopped. On top of that, I was exhausted from waking up so early and hungry because they wouldn’t let me have anything other than liquids. I was pretty cranky.
The doctor gave me a cervical check and said I was only 1.5 cm dilated and that the baby’s head was not engaged. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to hear that after hours of labor in the middle of the night.
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My doctor told me that since I had written on my birth plan that I wanted to keep things as natural as possible, he suggested I go home and come back when labor started back up.
My husband drove me home, we had lunch, and I listened to a birth meditation recorded by my dear friend and yoga teacher (by the way, I’m convinced these made a big difference in helping me relax so that I could work with my body. You can grab your own copy here).
I finally crashed out for a few hours and felt much better when I woke up.
When I woke up around 1:30, I contacted my midwife/doula friend Emily and asked her if she had any advice. She suggested that maybe my baby wasn’t aligned correctly in my pelvis and gave me some great ideas to help (don’t worry, I’ll share below!).
I followed Emily’s advice, rolled around on a birthing ball for a while, and then took a (very slow, short) walk with my husband. We came back inside and hung out.
Even though my contractions were only once every 30 or 40 minutes at this point, they were each very intense and difficult to breathe through. I finally said to my husband that I was going to lie back down and listen to more birth meditations.
That must have done the trick. Within that 20 minute meditation, I had 5 intense contractions. I got my husband’s attention and he rushed us back to the hospital for the second time that day.
I was in transition by the time we got there, and I nearly couldn’t walk back to the L&D ward. I was already pushing as the nurse was getting an IV in me. But within 27 minutes (!) of getting to the hospital, my son was born.
What causes labor to stall?
Labor can start and then stall out for a variety of reasons. But here’s one important thing to note: Just because your labor stalls doesn’t always mean something is wrong. Your body has a reason for what it does; trust it!
In fact, one of the more common reasons that labor stalls out is because your body and your baby simply aren’t ready for birth yet. Some women experience prodromal labor, a form of “pre-labor” where they have contractions that don’t produce cervical dilation. But maybe these contractions are helping baby move into a more optimal position, or maybe they’re even starting effacement (thinning) of the cervix.
In fact, I’m convinced that my labor with my fourth baby stalled because my body was working to get him in a better position (more on that below). For me, once labor cranked back up, it was extremely fast!
Another possible reason for stalled labor is stress from the mother. If you’re uncomfortable in the hospital, or bothered with frequent cervical checks, your body may respond by shutting down labor. Even if you are stressed for other reasons, like fears of having a new baby, labor may stall out temporarily. This is why I so strongly suggest soothing birth meditations like these.
Regardless of why labor stalls, trust your body. Take the opportunity to take a nap or do whatever you need to do to prepare for the next stage.
How to get stalled labor to start again – aligning baby in pelvis
This is what you really want to know: How do you handle a stalled labor? Luckily, there are several strategies that will help you get your birth process going again!
If baby is aligned incorrectly, that could be a major reason labor starts and stops. And there’s more to alignment than baby being head down and facing your back.
Go for a walk to help labor
This classic suggestion allows gravity to help baby nestle further down into your pelvis. The pressure of baby’s head on your cervix encourages labor to begin.
Roll or bounce on a birthing ball
Birthing balls are a cheap, fantastic investment for pregnancy and labor. Rolling in circles on your ball helps open up your pelvis, and bouncing on a ball helps baby descend further.
Crawling on hands and knees to position baby in pelvis
One easy way to facilitate labor is to crawl on your hands and knees. Regardless of your baby’s malposition, crawling can help.
Think about the shape of a baby curled up in the womb. His back and back of the head are generally heavier than the front, where little arms and legs are tucked close to the body. By getting down on all fours, you allow gravity to help the heaviest part (baby’s back) to roll down against your belly.
Abdominal tuck and lift to position baby
Babies generally come out with the crown of the head (not the very top) first. For this to happen, their chin has to be tucked down. Without this chin tuck, it’s difficult for baby’s head to engage. Sometimes your baby needs help getting that chin tuck to happen!
If your belly is really big and sticking way out, your baby may not be able to get into your pelvic brim easily. That’s where the abdominal tuck and lift comes in. Basically, every time you have a contraction, stand up, pick up your belly from underneath (either use your interlaced hands or a scarf), and tuck your hips/pelvis so that your lower back is flat. You do this for about ten contractions in a row.
This technique is exactly what my midwife friend recommended to me, and it worked. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t really fun to do, because it intensified the contraction. But I think it was what my baby needed to drop into the birth canal.
And if you’re a more visual learner, I found a fantastic video showing exactly what this tuck looks like. Check it out below.
Calming yourself to get labor started back up
The other piece of getting labor going again is your mental/emotional state. There’s a few things you can do to help here.
Go back home to labor
If you’re at the hospital and labor stalls out, don’t be afraid to just go home, especially if you live pretty close to the hospital. You will be more relaxed there, and you can watch a movie, take a walk, or do whatever you enjoy.
Listen to birth affirmations and meditations
Even though I had a beautiful, fantastic birth for my third child, I was a little nervous about my fourth labor. It was like I was afraid I couldn’t do it again.
And even though I definitely think the lift and tucks helped my little guy align in my pelvis, I still needed to deal with my nerves.
Listening to my birth meditation, hearing affirmations that my body was capable, was the key step that took me from intermittent contractions to full-blown labor.
What not to do for stalled labor
There are other methods that are often used for stalled labor that are not effective. Let’s cover them here.
Getting induced for stalled labor
Sometimes, your OB may suggest an induction with Pitocin to get labor going again. This is likely not in your (or baby’s) best interest!
Induction with Pitocin leads to more intense, painful contractions, but if your body isn’t ready, the contractions often won’t be “productive,” just leading to more pain for mom and stress for mom and baby both.
Remember, your body has a reason for hitting pause on your contractions. Trying to force the process along often won’t work, leading to “failure to progress” and possibly an unnecessary c-section.
(Note: There are absolutely some situations in which an induction may be necessary. A stalled-out labor just usually isn’t one of them.)
This is where having a birth plan already made comes in handy. My OB did not suggest an induction because he already knew I wanted to avoid one, because I had a birth plan! And I know I made the right choice, because my baby came only 7 hours after that conversation, no medical interventions needed.
Breaking waters for stalled labor
Sometimes, an OB or midwife will break your water to try to get labor going. While this might work, it comes with risks that might not be explained to you.
Remember how I talked about tricks you can try to help baby into position? Well, once your water is broken, these methods are much less effective. Think about being in a bathtub: When there’s water in there with you, you can swish and roll around more easily. But if you were in a dry tub, you wouldn’t be able to move as easily.
And once your amniotic sac is broken, you’re set on a timetable. Generally, your baby should be born within 24 hours breaking your water, to decrease risk of infection. If your body and baby are not ready yet, you’ll be forced into otherwise unnecessary interventions within a day.
Conclusions on stalled out labor
Whether you’re reading this while wondering when your labor will begin, or you actually are in the middle of a stalled labor desperately looking for something to make it start again, I hope this post gives you encouragement!
Trust me, I know how it is to wait and wonder when your baby will finally arrive. I know exactly how it feels to be on edge, waiting for labor. But don’t worry, your little one will come when he or she is ready.
If you’ve experienced stalled labor, I’d love to hear about your story. Share in the comments below!