Are 5 Minute Long Contractions Normal?


It's so interesting, isn't it, how the pregnancy books we read outline "normal" labor, i.e. that elusive 12 hour labor that progresses easily and steadily. Ask a random sampling of your recently pregnant friends if they would consider their labor normal, either in length or in how it began or how it unfolded. Go ahead, I dare ya! Chances are, their answers are no. If your labor starts out like my doula client's labor has started out, I have some advice for you.

I'll call her Lexie. Lexie began having contractions, 10 minutes apart, and I advised her to get some rest since the clock was approaching 10:30p. "You'll never get as much rest as you will *right now!!*" I told her. She and her husband had taken my Birthing From Within childbirth ed series and they know that I'm a major sleep pusher. So we all went to sleep for the night, except when we checked in in the morning it turns out she hadn't gotten much sleep at all. She was up all night long with contractions that had gotten super long...like 3-5 minutes long, as in, the contraction lasted a whole 5 minutes.

Is that normal? Wellll, it's happening, so it's normal. You know what I mean? It can be "normal" but perhaps not "ideal," at the same time. It's not what the books outline, it's not easy to get through, and it can be indicative of something that requires attention. Lexie had already spoken to her midwife who assessed the situation medically and determined this to be prodromal labor. As her doula, I was more concerned with Lexie's comfort and mental state; contraction patterns like that are HARD! Why might a labor pattern progress in this way? Two words: WONKY POSITION

Sometimes if baby is in a "wonky position" OR if baby is having a hard time getting into the brim of the pelvis, contractions will get super long. It's as if the uterus is working double time to contract baby into a better position, or into the brim of the pelvis. Baby and body really want labor to start, but need a little bit of help. I immediately suggested side-lying releases on each side for the duration of a contraction, as well as an inversion (check out this video from Spinning Babies). These moves help balance out the body and provide a stretch in the round ligaments in the front of the pelvis, which can allow baby more room to maneuver into a better position. Lexie reported that her contractions shortened down to 30-90 seconds as a result, (Yesss! That's a huge success! Not only did the exercises prove effective, but also 90 second contractions are much more bearable than five minute contractions!) but she was still having some very long ones thrown into the mix.

My next suggestion was for the Walcher's position. This one is also outlined on the Spinning Babies website and is a difficult one to get into and to sustain but can be a game changer. (For you curious birds, go to the Spinning Babies site for pictures and instructions.) Walcher's can help shape shift the pelvis to allow baby to move under the pubic bone and into the brim of the pelvis, so baby's head can do the work of putting pressure on the cervix to help dilate the cervix. For prodromal labor, this is the secret nobody is talking about! Lexie dutifully tried this position for a contraction or two and decided she then would try to get some rest again for the night, as her contractions were 10 minutes apart again and a bearable 90 seconds long. At her midwife's suggestion, she took a Tylenol PM and laid down.