Why do hospital staff say you’re not in labour when you are?!

Posted in Birth.

It’s been hours. You’re in pain. A lot of pain. The contractions are strong, your water has probably already broken, and you know you’re right in the thick of this birthing stuff. That is, until your midwife or doctor shuts you down, stating that nope, you’re not in true labour and they’ll come back when you are.


Labour day dilemma

This is what happened to me when giving birth to my first two children and to say I was infuriated and humiliated is an understatement. In both instances obviously, my labours weren’t progressing as fast as they should have been and the medical staff (who are the experts) believed my babies were a long way off from entering the world.

They were, but that’s not that point. Telling a mother during childbirth, who’s in utter agony, that’s she’s not technically in labour yet implies that she’s making a whole lot of fuss for nothing. It is just plain rude. 

What is real labour, then?

Most midwives and doctors don’t consider your labour the real deal until your cervix is at least three centimetres dilated because this means your body is officially gearing up to deliver your baby.

Full dilation is ten centimetres, which is when you get told to start pushing if you’re feeling the urge. All of the stuff that comes before is called pre-labour. So despite the hours you’ve been screaming for pain relief – unless your cervix is open for business – not much notice is taken.


The real deal

I get that hospitals are busy places and there are lots of women having babies and staff are needed in many rooms at once. So I’m not begrudging that a woman in the early stages of labour is often left alone with her partner or family to ride out those contractions until the midwives confirm that labour has progressed. What I am miffed about, though, is the dismissal that it’s not real labour. Even if there’s still a long way to go, it’s labour all right – and it’s hardcore

Firmly shut

With my first baby, I was induced in the evening and told to sleep until the morning. By morning, nothing had happened so my doctor manually broke my waters (excruciating) and I was popped on the hormone drip to speed things up. I felt like I went from zero to ten on the pain scale in about half an hour, but because I wasn’t dilated at all, the midwife kept telling me to relax as I wasn’t in labour yet.

Katherine Heigl screaming during labour in the film, 'Knocked Up' - feature

Not good enough

As a first-time mother, who was nervous, had high blood pressure (hence the medical intervention) and was in a great deal of pain, this was so disheartening to hear. Was I doing something wrong? Why couldn’t I handle the pain if it wasn’t real labour? After several hours I gave in and had an epidural which was wonderful. I still didn’t dilate fully for ages and ended up having an emergency c-section with forceps because my baby was stuck and distressed.

Labour of love

In the end, everything was fine but I’ll never forget being told I wasn’t in real labour (the same thing happened the next time around when I had a vaginal birth after caesarean).

Maybe I’m alone in my thoughts here, but I think all midwives and doctors should respect a woman’s contractions a bit more. Unless it’s truly false labour like Braxton Hicks – if you’re going into labour, then let’s just call it that: real labour (no matter what stage). Giving birth is a huge deal for a woman and her body, and it should be given the attention the experience deserves.


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