I saw one of my HypnoBirthing clients, Jenny, at one of my postpartum workshops last month. She was eager to tell me about her hospital birth. One of the first things she said was, “I still can’t get over that digital clock! It was horrible!” Well, that certainly piqued my interest.
When Jenny arrived to her assigned birthing room, she said a large digital wall clock was started – a timer, so to speak, that would track the length of her labor.
She was told she had ten hours. Meaning, they wanted her to dilate one centimeter per hour on average. This wasn’t the first I’d heard of this time limit – a doctor once told me the same thing. But this was the first I’d heard of the clock. Remarkably, the hospital staff didn’t discuss with Jenny how long she labored at home before coming to the hospital. No matter, apparently. She had ten hours, regardless.
One of my labor doulas told me she witnessed the same “protocol” when she was attending a birth at the same hospital. When the birthing mother was fully dilated, the clock was re-set back to zero. “You have two hours to get the baby out. Otherwise,” said the nurse on duty, “a C-section will be required.”
Required? I decided to do some research.
“Because-We-Said-So” Childbirth Protocols
Just for a moment, let’s give these doctors the benefit of the doubt. It seems there is a concern about the risk of prolonged labor.
“Prolonged labor” is defined by the World Health Organization as labor lasting “longer than 24 hours”. In my research I encountered other medical agencies which corroborated this. Thus, this barely-double-digit, round number of ten is recklessly arbitrary and unsubstantiated.
When hospitals and/or obstetricians implement policies and protocols – such as keeping women on their backs or depriving them of food and water during labor (both of which increase risk and slow labor) – one of the first questions to ask is this:
How does this serve the birthing mother and her baby?
A Call for Common Sense
It would be difficult, if not impossible, for any woman to relax under such duress, no matter how much she prepares for a calm birth with HypnoBirthing, yoga, meditation or any other method known to keep endorphin levels high and stress hormones low. Jenny’s instinct was perfect when it came to this clock; she instructed her husband to cover it with a sheet. But each time the nurse re-entered the room, the sheet was yanked down.
In and of itself, prolonged labor isn’t even dangerous. Prolonged means just that: a longer, slower labor. For what it’s worth, the average labor for a first time mom is 12-18 hours, according to WebMD, and their definition just applies to active labor. (Early labor can last much longer.) The course of a woman’s labor is more art than science. For some, labor can be stop-and-go for days. Tiring? Perhaps. Dangerous, no.
So that digital clock with its 10-hour “alarm” isn’t serving women. It’s just another way to set the stage for a C-section – the most common major surgery in the U.S.