Causes and Treatments Failure to Progress (Prolonged Labor)
Failure to progress refers to labor that does not move as fast as it should.
This could happen with a big baby, a baby that does not present normally or
with a uterus that does not contract appropriately. But more often than not, no
specific cause for "failure to progress" is found. If labor goes on too
long, your doctor may give you intravenous fluids to help prevent you from
getting dehydrated. If the uterus does not contract enough, he or she may give
you oxytocin, a medicine that promotes stronger contractions. And if the cervix
stops dilating despite strong contractions of the uterus, a cesarean section
may be indicated.
Sometimes a placenta previa may cause an abnormal presentation. But many
times the cause is not known. Towards the end of your third trimester, your
doctor will check the presentation and position of your fetus by feeling your
abdomen. If the fetus remains in breech presentation several weeks before the
due date, your doctor may attempt to turn the baby into the correct
One option typically offered to women after 36 weeks is an "external
cephalic version," which involves manually rotating the baby in cog-like
fashion inside the uterus. These manipulations work about 50% to 60% of the
time. They're usually more successful on women who have given birth previously
because their uteruses stretch more easily.
"Versions" typically take place in the hospital, just in case an
emergency cesarean delivery becomes necessary. To make the procedure easier to
perform, safer for the baby and more tolerable for the mother-to-be, doctors
sometimes administer a uterine muscle relaxant, then use an ultrasound machine
and electronic fetal monitor as guides. The procedure typically doesn't involve
anesthesia, but sometimes an epidural can help with the version. Since not all
doctors have been trained to do versions, you may be referred to another
obstetrician in your area.
There is a very small risk that the maneuver could cause the baby's cord to
become entangled or the placenta to separate from the uterus. There's also a
chance that the baby might flip back into a breech position before delivery, so
some doctors induce labor immediately. The risk of reverting to breech is lower
closer to term, but the bigger the baby, the harder it is to turn.
The procedure can be uncomfortable, but avoids a cesarean section, which is
most likely if the baby can't be moved into the proper position.