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Accelerating labour

‘Accelerating your labour’ is a term that may be used by your midwife or doctor. It means ‘speeding up’ your labour.

Accelerating labour is different from inducing labour because you start labouring yourself. Every woman’s labour is different and individual. One woman’s labour may be 6 hours from the start to their baby’s birth while another woman’s labour may be 18 hours or longer (those extra hours are usually in the early stages).

Why is my labour accelerated?

Accelerating labour is recommended when a woman is in labour, and having contractions but her cervix is not dilating (opening) and/or her baby is not moving down deeper into her pelvis. The aim of accelerating your labour is to speed up the frequency, strength and length of your contractions, to shorten the length of your labour by helping it progress at a faster rate.

The important thing to know and understand is that labour is a process; it progresses over time as you move closer to birthing your baby. Your labour and how it is progressing as well as your baby’s wellbeing will be assessed by the midwife and/or doctor looking after you.

Some maternity units throughout the world practise a policy called ‘Active management of labour’ (see Step 4.5). This means that during labour, your cervix dilating or opening is expected to progress at a rate of 1cm an hour. Remember, if your cervix is less than 3cm dilated or open and if any of the below interventions are performed, it means that your labour is induced, not accelerated.

Pregnant woman resting against a metal bar with her back being massaged by partner and a midwife observing

How is my labour accelerated?

The methods of accelerating labour are the same way of inducing labour that you learned about in the previous step:

  • Breaking the Waters/Amniotomy
  • Syntocinon infusion/drip

Breaking the Waters/Amniotomy (see Step 4.5)

To break your waters, the midwife or doctor will ask your permission to perform a vaginal examination to check if your cervix has opened (dilated) further since the previous examination.

Some research indicates that having your waters broken makes very little difference to the length of your labour (Smith et al 2013). This suggests that breaking the waters for slow labour progress should not be ‘routine’ in the management of attempting to shorten labour and that other things, like keeping upright and moving about in labour, work just as well. Therefore, it is important that you and your doctor and midwife make this decision on an individual basis.

Syntocinon infusion/drip (see Step 3.2)

Syntocinon, or synthetic oxytocin, is a drug that is administered through a drip, used when labour is progressing slowly. The aim of the syntocinon drip/infusion is to increase the frequency, strength and length of the contractions.

In a 2013 review of research papers (Bugg et al, 2013), using synthetic oxytocin was associated with a roughly two hour reduction in the time taken to birth. However, there was no difference in caesarean section rates when compared to women who did not have a syntocinon drip to speed up their labour.

  • What other ways do you think you could help your labour accelerate?

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This article is from the free online course:

Journey to birth

Trinity College Dublin