Explaining the Concept of “Laboring Down”

Image via koamunkee/Flickr
Image via koamunkee/Flickr

When my poor sister-in-law was pregnant with my niece, she went over a week past her due date. 

Although our pregnancies overlapped, the birth of my child had long ago changed me from giant, lumbering pregnant woman to giant, lumbering non-pregnant person in the dead of the summer heat. She continued on, suffering the same fate as I, as neither of us were one of those pregnant women with barely-there baby bumps. 

No, sirree. None of that for us. 

When even our mutual doctor, who much prefers to let labor take its course naturally without prodding along, was starting to feel sorry for her, she decided to schedule an induction one Monday morning early in September. 

As is common with inductions (really, labor and delivery nurses see it all the time), her labor started the night before she was scheduled to be induced. 

{ MORE: Is it the Real Deal? How to Tell When You’re Really in Labor }

I woke up in the morning, so excited to meet my niece or nephew and texted around looking for an update. At around 9 in the morning, I found out that she was dilated to 10 cm already! Yay! Baby time!

Except baby time didn't come.

We waited and waited. And waited some more.

Around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I couldn't take it anymore. I called my mother-in-law, wondering what on earth was going on. She too, had been worried. Why hadn't she had that baby yet?

As it would turn out, my sister-in-law went through a very normal, albeit slightly longer than most, process of labor called “laboring down.”  

“Laboring down” is a relatively new (as in not historically, but back from the doctor-controlled world of early modern childbirth … shudder) term for what is pretty natural for a laboring mother. Basically, it means that instead of instructing a mother to push, simply because she is fully dilated–as one might see in the movies–the childbirth team will have the mother “labor down” until she feels the overwhelming urge to push. 

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The reasoning behind laboring down is simple. Just because she is fully dilated, her baby might not be in the prime position to leave his comfy residence just yet. Laboring down allows the baby to get in prime position to make the transition out of the birth canal easier on both the mother and the baby. 

Would you want your entire body squeezed every 2-3 minutes while trying to navigate down the smallest slip`n slide of your life?

Also, consider this: every time a mother pushes, that contraction and the force of her contraction, depending on the position of the umbilical cord, has the potential to cut off a big chunk of the baby's oxygen supply – as well as being darn uncomfortable for that poor little baby squished in there. (Would you want your entire body squeezed every 2-3 minutes while trying to navigate down the smallest slip`n slide of your life?)  Prolonged and ineffective pushing could lead to tiring both mom and baby out, and lead to dangerously low oxygen levels in the baby, which will affect his or her heart rate, leading to–you guessed it–an emergency c-section. 

Moral of the story? Let mom push when she feels ready to push, how she wants to push, and for how long she wants to push and all will be well in the world!

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Oh–and my niece was born at 8:54 pm. 

How long was your labor? 

What do you think?

Explaining the Concept of “Laboring Down”

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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9 comments

  1. Tapia says:

    I had first stage contractions for a week. Then went in Sunday night and had her Tuesday afternoon. Around two Tuesday morning I ended up having an epidural (which was a mistake) don’t get me wrong I needed the rest badly but when I dilated to ten I couldn’t feel when I needed to push because of the epidural. Which will not happen again with my second.

  2. my painful contractions with my third child lasted 16 hours (the pushing part, once I was ready was super fast, though), but even so I cannot imagine being 10 centimeters and not pushing until that evening. how did she handle the pain for that long of being ready to go? or had she had an epidural and so didn’t feel the need to push? having said that, I had heard the concept of ‘laboring down’ and waited until I felt the urge to push this time (which made the pushing part faster than with the other two, I believe). 9 pound 3 oz baby boy, my biggest…

  3. Angelwings says:

    an hour long well actually 28 hours. but the pushing time was an hour and they told me to push or c-section would be done. and this article is right you will feel the urge to push, its an amazing and empowering feeling.

  4. Rachel says:

    I think its a great idea to let nature and the mothers body play a bigger part in the labor.

  5. bmattler92 says:

    after going a week after my due date I was induced at 9pm and labor started about 9am the next morning and my son was born at 3:35pm

  6. gfeld says:

    But how did she handle the painful contractions for so long?

  7. laymi says:

    My due date is in two weeks I am really nervous now and I hope I do not go over my due date but, I do want my labor to be natural and not force things. This article helped me understand the concept of “laboring down” way better and I do believe it is a good thing. 🙂

  8. I really like this story and the idea of “laboring down”, I’m six months along and I’ve been wondering a lot about that “big day” and I think it will be awesome if my doctor let’s me decide when to push. I think it’s important not to tire the woman or baby out.

  9. Jennifer says:

    This was a amazing story.

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