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Prolonged Labor

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Childbirth is a unique experience for every woman, whether you're a first-time mom or a longtime parent. Sometimes, the baby comes really fast. Other times, well, not so fast. How quickly your bundle of joy arrives depends on many things, including how fast something called labor is happening.

Labor is a series of intense, repeated muscle contractions. The contractions help push the baby out of the uterus (womb) and into the birth canal.

You will probably feel the contractions in the lower back and belly area. This is called labor pains. The contractions help dilate (widen) the opening to the vagina (called the cervix). This allows the baby to move out of your body and be born.

First-time moms are usually in labor for about 12 to 18 hours, on average. If you've had a baby before, labor usually goes more quickly, usually about half that amount of time.

What Is Prolonged Labor?

Sometimes, labor stalls or occurs much too slowly. Prolonged labor may also be referred to as "failure to progress."

Prolonged labor can be determined by labor stage and whether the cervix has thinned and opened appropriately during labor. If your baby is not born after approximately 20 hours of regular contractions, you are likely to be in prolonged labor. Some health experts may say it occurs after 18 to 24 hours.

If you are carrying twins or more, prolonged labor is labor that lasts more than 16 hours.

Your doctor may refer to slow labor as "prolonged latent labor."

Prolonged labor may happen if:

  • The baby is very big and cannot move through the birth canal.
  • The baby is in an abnormal position. Normally, the baby is head-down facing your back.
  • The birth canal is too small for the baby to move through.
  • Your contractions are very weak.

What Happens if Labor Goes Too Slowly?

Most women dream of a fast labor and swift delivery. But if your labor seems to be going very slowly, take comfort in knowing that your doctor, nurse, or midwife will closely monitor you and your baby for any problems during this time.

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