What Do I Do When: My contractions slow down or stop?

I know. Not only has the last month of pregnancy been ridiculously uncomfortable, but you really, really want to hold your baby in your arms and get to see their little face and kiss those tiny hands. Maybe your due date has come and gone, and that’s just not fair. It is time for labor to start, and when it finally does, when you are sure your waiting is over, when those contractions are getting some intensity, you text me with things like “It’s finally baby time!”

And then it’s not.

Maybe they slowly spaced back out, maybe you took a shower and poof! there went the contractions, but it is demoralizing, frustrating, and again, just not fair. Maybe you really did a fair amount of work, or lost a night’s sleep because of those contractions, and now you’re wondering if it was all for nothing. And what can you do to get them back?

First, let me reassure you that you didn’t waste that work. Going into active, productive labor is like filling a bucket. I’ve never been to Great Wolf Lodge, but my kids have, and they tell me about a feature in the water park called the Tipping Bucket. This “Bucket” is huge, and has a spout of water constantly flowing into it. When it gets filled to a tipping point, it…tips. It actually dumps about 1,000 gallons of water onto the happily screaming children beneath, who have been waiting for this moment with at least as much anticipation as you have for labor to start.

Keep this picture in mind as you keep reading, except add several spigots of water flowing into your labor “bucket.” There are a good few factors that help a body go into labor, and they all add up. If you’ve started contractions, worked for a while, then they eased away, that work has not been lost. It’s still stored in your labor bucket, if you will, and when it really is time to have your baby, that work will help the whole process.

So my first answer to this question of what to do when contractions either slow down or stop is: don’t despair. Feel encouraged that your body is starting its good work, it knows what to do, and your labor will start soon.

The Different “Spigots”

I could say that there are many “factors” that add up to starting labor, but I really love that visual of a big bucket with water flowing in, so we’re going to call them spigots. Some might be flowing at a mere trickle, some might be fully gushing, but they all contribute.

Spigot One: Hormones

Both you and your baby and your placenta are producing hormones that contribute to labor. Most of this is passive on your part–there’s not much you can do, for example, to get your placenta to secrete more oxytocin. However, if you’re really needing to get those contractions going again (maybe if your amniotic sac released some time ago, and your care provider would like to see more contractions within a certain period of time), nipple stim can get your body to release a few more hormones. This technique isn’t strong enough to bring on labor on its own; it’s just trying to turn on that spigot a little more.

Spigot Two: Baby’s Position

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve linked to Spinning Babies…but their work on helping moms understand how baby’s position can influence labor and birth is pivotal in my doula practice. If labor has started and then stopped, I strongly recommend the “Three Sisters,” which I always teach to my clients, and most especially the Side-Lying Release. This wonderful position relaxes so many ligaments and allows your baby some fantastic space to get in a great position. With a good position, there is a bit more pressure on your cervix, and that can start a lovely cascade reaction of hormone production and contractions.

Spigot Three: Movement

Sometimes just moving about can get a few contractions going, and this can get that bucket nicely full to tip into active labor. Often, for pre-labor or very early labor, you can get contraction going with movement, then when you sit down they space out or stop completely. Again–don’t worry about that, just take the rest. I know it’s a temptation to just keep moving for hours and hours until you finally get into labor, but all that’s going to do is exhaust you before your body has determined to get to work. I recommend keeping your movement gentle and paying attention to your energy levels. A really wonderful tool is the Miles Circuit, and this is especially beneficial when alternated with a nice 15-30 minute walk. And again; pay attention to your energy levels, and don’t force things at this stage. If it’s the time you normally go to bed, then please just go to bed.

Spigot Four: Nutrition and Hydration

When the body is depleted of resources, it has a difficult time engaging in strong work. I’ve watched contractions pick up after a hungry mom had a good meal, and I’ve seen dehydrated moms have either spaced-out contractions or contractions that were really close together, without much of a break in between. We don’t often feel hungry when we’re in labor, but you’re just going to need to get in some good nutrition anyways. And, while water is good, you can still be a bit dehydrated if that’s all you’re drinking. I love it when my clients get things ready for a “Labor-Aid” electrolyte drink, and this recipe looks like a good one.

Just to re-iterate as I finish this up: If you’ve started to have some good contractions and then they went away, don’t despair. That work still had an effect, and it will all still add up to holding your baby in your arms soon. Take good care of yourself, see if you can influence one or other of the “spigots” that are filling your labor bucket, and call your doula.

Seriously. Call your doula.

(This post is part of a series! To see the other posts about “What to do when…” click here.)


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