How to Keep Labor Moving

What if your baby seems to be taking a long time?  How do you keep labor moving?

Moms worry about “long” labors for many reasons, but there are a couple of really big concerns. The first is hearing”failure to progress” – in other words, the baby isn't coming as fast as the care providers would like. The second worry is “will I be able to make it all the way through.” Most of us feel a little nervous about childbirth, and it's totally understandable to worry about it lasting a long time!

How do you handle these concerns? Is there anything you can do to keep labor moving along smoothly?

How to Keep Labor Moving

Should You Worry About Failure to Progress?

Cesarean surgery is becoming the reality for more and more moms and babies, and though many birth workers are trying to reverse the trend, we all know change takes time (after all, look at how long it took for us to start pretending that surgical birth is safer than vaginal birth for 30-50% of mothers and babies – it will take some time to turn this dangerous experiment around).

One of the easiest ways to order up c-section surgery is to say that there's “failure to progress.” Moms have started getting more skeptical of other common cesarean excuses (such as “the baby is too big”), but failure to progress is easy to spring on a tired birthing woman. It's rare for any woman's labor to be “textbook” because women are very different and there's a lot of variation in labor patterns.

As I discuss in my article on handling a long labor, the tools used to measure labor and put a finite length on how long a given woman's labor should last are out of date and inaccurate. Research shows, again, that there's wide variation in labor pattern.

I know that saying this may not change the policy of the place where you've decided to give birth. They may limit the amount of time a woman can “safely” labor. In that case, my best advice is to stay home as long as possible before you head in. Ideally you'll get there and promptly be ready to push your baby out 😉 Obviously you should listen to your instincts and go in if you feel you need to – but I advise erring on the side of staying home longer.

Another Reason to Stay Home

Women also worry about being able to handle the work of labor. Giving birth does take some stamina and energy! The thought of a long labor isn't usually what most of us want 🙂 We can, however, work with our bodies, with our births, and with our babies. And generally, we can keep labor moving along smoothly.

Being at home helps keep things moving because you're comfortable at home. You can focus on your baby and on working with him or her. You don't have all kinds of wires, monitors, machines, doctors, nurses, midwives, or watching family members to worry about (if you do have watching family members, it might be good to send them back to their homes!).

You're free to move and to eat and drink. Some things that keep birthing waves coming:

  • Being upright
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Swaying
  • Sitting on the toilet
  • Taking a shower
  • Standing and leaning into furniture or another person
  • Being relaxed
  • Feeling safe
  • Staying hydrated
  • Peeing regularly
  • Being able to lie down and rest

Of course you can do many of these things in a hospital room, but you can probably imagine that you'd feel more comfortable with them at home. There's just not the pressure, the watching eyes, the ticking clock. So stay home as long as you can

When You Feel Like Things Aren't Moving

You can get to the point where you feel exhausted and “stuck” no matter where you're giving birth. Maybe you've chosen a home birth but things are going on, and on, and on. Maybe you decided it was time to head for the hospital or birth center, and now things aren't going as quickly as you'd like. What can you do?


I chose to put resting as the first strategy because sometimes mamas and babies just need a break, especially if your birthing time has been intense. Find a way to rest between waves. Side-lying is a position that works for many mamas, and it helps keep baby in a good position, too. Other moms find that getting into a tub of warm water is helpful. Getting in the shower can also really help – leaning against the side, squatting, or even sitting in the tub with warm water cascading over you (I have done that in several births!).

Sometimes a little rest goes a long way towards renewing your energy for getting your baby out!


Energy is important for giving birth. Nobody would expect an athlete to make it through an endurance event with no energy. Think about marathon runners, cyclists, etc. – any athlete in a long endurance sport is going to take in some kind of nutrition. Birth takes some effort! Physical effort!

We tend to focus only on the cervix when we thing about labor and birth, but in reality the cervix doesn't do very much. It just gets out of the way 🙂

The uterus is a powerful muscle. It holds baby during pregnancy, but its starring role is when it pushes baby out!! An athlete cannot perform once the energy supplies for her muscles are depleted – at least not until she gets some quick energy back to them. The same is true for your uterus. It needs a lot of energy.

If you're having a tough time or feel like things have really slowed down, some quick energy can make a big difference. Many midwives favor energy sources like honey, which provides fast energy. But I've heard wise midwife Gloria LeMay say that even a Mountain Dew will do the job 😉

Try and get something that has simple sugars in if you're feeling fatigued or like labor isn't moving.


Granted, walking can be really hard to do if you're in a hospital that doesn't have a good policy for birthing women. But walking has many advantages – it gets you upright, letting gravity help you and your baby. It also gets your pelvis moving.

That's right – your pelvis can move. It's not rigid. Male pelvises are pretty rigid (at least once they get through adolescence). Female pelvises, however, always have cartilage between the major joint in the front, and there's always mobility at the back where the pelvis joins the sacrum (the bony plate at the base of the spine – the tailbone, is attached to the bottom of it).

When you walk you create movement within your pelvis, which can help your baby rotate and turn to navigate through that area – and out into your arms 🙂

Remember that baby is not passive during the birth process. Your baby is actively working with you. That's a great thing to keep in mind because it gives you something to focus on – your precious little partner 😉

Climbing up and down stairs is a variation of walking that works incredibly well for a “stuck” baby – it really creates a lot of movement in the pelvis for baby to come down. Give it a try if you feel like things aren't going the way you'd like.

Sometimes These Things Take Time

It's true that sometimes labor takes time – and sometimes you just have to be patient.

If mama and baby are both doing well, it's generally pretty safe to wait. We don't always like waiting (especially not during labor, which can get pretty uncomfortable). But many things worth having are worth waiting for – and they're worth the effort they take to get.

Birth is really tiring (I've done it 7 times!) – but it is worth the wait.

I'm going to link to several articles that will give you even more tools for working with labor. But I want to encourage you to think about the “basic” things I outlined today. Those are really going to help you – especially if seasoned with a lot of patience.

It's hard to find a care provider (even a midwife) these days who will give you the gift of patience, and sometimes it's hard for us to be patient and uncomfortable, even in pain. But you can work with your baby, rest as you're able, eat/drink to keep up your strength, and stay mobile for your baby. Couple that with the many skills a good natural childbirth class will give you and you can keep baby moving down and into your arms 🙂

How to Keep Labor Moving

About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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