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Can A Woman Push For Too Long During Labor? An OB-GYN Weighs In

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The first time I gave birth, my baby was posterior, or what the world of childbirth likes to call "sunny side up". That labor was hard, but it was the pushing stage that really took me by surprise, as it totaled about three and a half hours. My second experience of childbirth was much easier, yet I still had to push for an hour and a half to get him out: Not exactly a walk in the park. As I look back on my history to prepare for my third birth, it's got me wondering, "Can a woman push for too long during labor? Should my midwife have intervened?" I reached out to one experienced OB-GYN for her perspective.

Dr. Nita Landry is a board-certified OB-GYN who has served as a medical expert for the United Nations Foundation and now co-hosts the Emmy Award-winning talk show The Doctors, where she passionately dispels myths surrounding women's health and childbirth. When Romper reached out to Landry with the question of whether a woman can push for too long during labor, her answer was a qualified yes. "Yes, a woman can push for too long," says Landry, "but our definition of 'too long' has changed over the years."

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According to Landry, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that once a woman is fully dilated to 10 centimeters, it's perfectly normal for someone who has never had a baby to push for at least three hours. That makes my first experience — as insane as it felt at the time — completely within the range of normal.

But what about women who have been around that block before? Landry says the ACOG determines two hours of pushing to be normal for those who have already gone through childbirth at least once. So again, my second birth experience falls within the boundary lines of a healthy birth.

"Furthermore," Landry continues, "as long as progress is being documented, longer durations of pushing may be appropriate on an individualized basis." Examples of these types of individual circumstances, she explains, might be the presence of an epidural or a less convenient angling of the baby's head.

The key in these types of situations appears to be monitoring the vital signs of both baby and mother. "As long as mom is doing well, baby's heartbeat looks good on the monitor, and at least some progress is being made, there is no definitive answer to the question, 'How long is too long?'", Landry tells Romper.

Some deliveries simply move more slowly than others, but as long as small but consistent progress is being made, there is no cause for concern. Except, you know, the feeling of pushing 8 pounds of flesh out of your hoo-ha.

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About this little detail, Landry has empathy for women. "Even if everything looks great from a clinical standpoint," she encourages, "mommies should definitely let their doctors know if they feel exhausted or discouraged. Open communication is key." Taking a break from pushing might be a possibility, and other interventions such as an episiotomy might be appropriate if the woman has become too exhausted to continue at the current rate of progress.

But if baby's heartbeat is healthy and you feel you still have endurance left after two or three hours of pushing, there is no need to stop, and you have every right to continue on if you wish. In our modern world of quick fixes and fast paced medicine, we can all too often feel pressured to speed things along for the sake of the medical staff assisting us. But remember, they are there for you, and you have the right to the birth of your dreams — no matter how long it takes.

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