Telling pregnant women that I’ve had two short labours tends to earn me a few envious looks and comments. “You’re so lucky” is something I often hear when I tell women my second and third labours lasted 90 minutes from start to finish.
Short labours aren’t always a walk in the park, as they can be very intense and give your body less time to get those wonderful endorphins flowing.
Some women who have short labours go into shock – a quick birth certainly has it’s own set of issues, so it shouldn’t be a goal on your birth plan.
Yet the idea of a long labour brings with it a certain amount of fear, as women wonder how they will cope.
12 Things That May Shorten Your Labour
There are certainly several ways you can avoid having a prolonged labour. Here are 12 of the most common things you can do to have a more efficient labour:
#1: Eat Dates
Research has shown an old midwives’ tale is true – eating dates during pregnancy can shorten duration of labour.
The small study compared women who ate 6 dates per day for 4 weeks before their estimated due date, with women who ate no dates at all.
The women who ate dates had slightly higher cervical dilation on admission to hospital, and the first stage of labour was, on average, 8.5 hours. The women who didn’t consume dates were less dilated on arrival at hospital, and the first stage of labour averaged 15.1 hours.
Interestingly, 96% of the women who consumed dates went into spontaneous labour and did not have to be induced, compared with only 79% of those who didn’t eat dates.
#2: Birth Preparation
Birth is a little like climbing a mountain – it takes preparation and awareness. You need to know what your body can do, and what are the best conditions for making labour as easy as possible.
It helps to become familiar with the process of labour and birth so you know what to expect and how to work with your body. This knowledge can reduce fear and tension – both of which can cause your body to release adrenaline and slow labour down.
#3: Body Work
Labour is physically hard work, and even a fast labour can leave you feeling as though you’ve run a marathon. Mums-to-be who are fit and healthy are more likely to have a straightforward labour.
Go for a short walk as often as you can, preferably each day. Taking prenatal yoga classes is an excellent way to prepare your body for labour, as the positions encourage you to be upright and keep your pelvis open. Yoga also has a strong focus on breathing, which is excellent for keeping you relaxed and free of tension during labour.
Prenatal Tigress Yoga classes are another fantastic option, which help you connect with your body and focus on breathing too. Unlike traditional yoga, this delicious, feminine form of yoga was specifically designed for women and women’s bodies.
Having regular massages during pregnancy (with a trained pregnancy massage therapist) conditions your body to relax more quickly after contractions during labour.
Massage and touch during labour can also promote the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for effective uterine contractions.
Your partner or birth support person can provide gentle or firm massage. Stroking your head gently can calm and relax you, or you might prefer a firm touch such as holding hands, or pressure on your upper arms or thighs.
#5: Get Baby Ready
During pregnancy, your baby will move about until she gets too big for gymnastics and settles into place, ready for birth. This usually happens around 34 weeks gestation.
Ideally, your baby should be head down, with chin tucked in, and her back facing your front. If your baby’s head is flexed in an awkward position, or facing posterior (where the back of baby’s head is turned to press against your tailbone), labour can be slow and painful.
You can make your baby’s progress into the world quicker and easier by encouraging her to get into the best position for birth. Avoid lying on your back or slouching backwards on the couch. Try regularly kneeling on the floor, over a birthing ball, or sitting backwards on a chair.
#6: Prepare Your Pelvic Floor
Your pelvic floor muscles are pretty important during pregnancy and labour. The hammock of muscles takes a lot of the weight and pressure of your growing baby during pregnancy, and then needs to stretch to allow your baby to be born.
Having a good awareness of your pelvic floor muscles, and strengthening them by doing specific exercises, can make it easier for you to relax them during labour, and will help you push more efficiently.
Some women wrongly mistake having a vaginal birth as the cause of pelvic floor issues. It’s actually the weight of pregnancy on the pelvic floor at the root of the problem. Exercises are important for this very reason.
#7: Hire A Doula
It’s well known that continuous support from doulas can help women to have a positive birth experience. Years of research as well as womens’ experiences tell us this. A doula can support you to be upright, active and avoid interventions that are likely to slow your labour down.
If your labour slows down or if you get into a tricky spot, a doula can suggest specific position changes or help you plan your next move. Find out more about doulas.
#8: Stay Home Longer
When labour begins, you don’t need to rush off to hospital unless you have a medical reason to be there. At home, you can move about in your own comfortable surroundings.
You can eat and drink as you like, and use the environment to promote oxytocin, which will help your labour to progress. A uterus works less efficiently when dehydrated too.
Consider staying home until your contractions are around 1 minute long and 3-5 minutes apart; also keep in mind the distance to hospital and any likely delays.
#9: Clear Your Mind
Any difficult task becomes even more challenging if you approach it in a negative frame of mind. Surround yourself with positive messages about birth, and seek out people who remind you that you are strong and powerful and can give birth easily!
If you have any emotional blocks or worries about birth, it can help to talk about your concerns to a midwife, a trusted friend, or a doula . Often labour can stall because women have unresolved issues that are causing them to be fearful of the process. It’s better to voice these concerns before labour, and clear your mental space to allow for a positive birth.
#10: Stay Active And Upright
Movement and upright positions can encourage your labour to progress, and relieve pain during contractions. If you are low risk, you shouldn’t be restricted in your ability to move about as you wish.
Being upright allows gravity to help your cervix to dilate, and your uterus to push out your baby. Lying on your back can slow labour; you have to push ‘uphill’, against gravity, and your pelvis is restricted in its ability to open.
Read about 8 big benefits of an active birth.
#11: Use Your Voice
Making sounds during labour is one of the best ways to let go of tension in your body. Opening your mouth and making low sounds relaxes the muscles in your pelvis, allowing them to open more easily.
If you clench your jaw, you can feel the tension transfer down your body. This tension can lead to the release of adrenaline, which interferes with the release of oxytocin, and locks muscles that need to open to let your baby through.
#12: Use Your Environment
How fast your labour progresses or how long it lasts can depend on who is in your space and how safe you feel. Mammals labour more quickly and effectively when they are free from threats of danger. Our mammalian brains prefer quiet, privacy and safety to get into the labour groove.
In hospitals, bright lights, noise and unfamiliar staff can trigger the release of stress hormones, which stimulate the fight or flight response. This affects the pattern and strength of contractions, and labour begins to stall and slow down.
To maximise your body’s innate knowledge, make sure your birth setting enhances your sense of safety. Dim the lights, and make sure staff are aware of your birth preferences, use quiet voices and keep unfamiliar people out of your space.
There are no guarantees your labour will be short, but having a more effective and efficient labour for you is a great goal. Ultimately having the best and most positive birth experience means you are making the best choices for your circumstances.