During my first labor, I experienced what Sheila Kitzinger calls the “rest and be thankful stage” after reaching full dilation and before I pushed out my baby. The “rest and be thankful stage” is the lull in labor that some women experience after full dilation and before feeling the physiological urge to push. While commonly described in Kitzinger’s writings and in some other sources, mention of this stage is absent from many birth resources and many women have not heard of it. After writing recently about the spontaneous birth reflex, I received a comment stating the following: “I was particularly interested in the idea of resting after full dilation before pushing. This makes sense if you are only following your body’s urges to push, but never something I had seen (or remember seeing?) spelled out before.”
I always make sure to tell my birth class clients about the possibility of experiencing a lull like this, because it is during this resting phase that labor is sometimes described as having “stalled” or as requiring Pitocin to “kick it off again” or as requiring directed or coached pushing. Also, think of the frequency of remarks from mothers such as, “I just never felt the urge to push.” When exploring further, it is often revealed that what the mother actually experienced was no immediate pushing urge instantly following assessment of full dilation. Depending on the baby’s position, this can be extremely normal. The way I explain it to my clients is that the lull represents the conclusion of the physiological shift happening in the uterus—the transition between contractions that open the cervix and the contractions that push the baby down and out.
As I wrote in a previous post from several years ago:
Your uterus is a powerful muscle and will actually push your baby out without conscious or forced effort from you–-at some point following complete dilation your body will begin involuntarily pushing the baby out. Many women experience the unmistakable urge to push as an “uncontrollable urge”–-but, in order to feel that uncontrollable urge, you often have to wait a little while! Though some care providers and nurses encourage you to begin pushing as soon as you are fully dilated there is often a natural lull in labor before your body’s own pushing urge begins. Some people refer to this lull as the “rest and be thankful” stage. It gives your body a chance to relax and prepare to do a different type of work (in labor the muscles of your uterus are working to draw your cervix up and open. During pushing, the muscles of your uterus change functions and begin to push down instead of pull up). If you wait to push until you really need to, you will often find that your pushing stage is shorter and progresses more smoothly that pushing before you feel the urge.
In the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth they share the following important point:
“Research suggests that the length of time before the baby is born is the same if you allow one hour of ‘passive descent’ of the baby (when you relax and don’t consciously try to push) or you start pushing immediately after you are fully dilated.”
That’s right, the length of time between full dilation and baby’s birth is the same, whether the mother waited one hour before pushing, or started pushing without the urge immediately following full dilation. I know which one sounds easier and more peaceful to me!
In my own experience with my first baby, I found that I felt like I should be pushing after full dilation and thus began to do so before feeling the full urge. I ended up pushing for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I suspect if I’d just continued hanging out for 45 minutes to an hour, he may have flown out in 15 minutes. Prior to pushing though, I did experience a rest and be thankful stage of about 30 minutes in which I sat in a rocking chair, joked about feeling “trippy,” and talked about being an A++ birthing woman. I describe it in my son’s birth story:
After finding out that I was fully dilated, I started to feel very odd and I really think I had to go through a sort of emotional/psychological transition to adjust myself to the fact that I had “missed” the physical transition point…I sat in the rocking chair for a while and kept saying things like, “am I dreaming? Is this real?” I also made a joke about feeling “trippy” like in Spiritual Midwifery. We also joked about what an A+ + + laboring woman I was (a family joke–I was a 4.0 student throughout college and grad school and so we always say that I like to get an A+ + + on everything I do). Those pressure feelings I had been having for a while, got a little more intense and I started pushing kind of experimentally. I was on my knees with my head on the bed on my pillow again and during one of the little pushes my water broke with a giant, startling POP and sprayed across the room including all over my friend. At this point, the midwife left saying, “I think I should call the doctor.” via My First Birth « Talk Birth.
The blog Birth and Baby Wise has some great thoughts to share on resting and being thankful (note the blog is from an educator in London, thus the use of the term Syntocinon, rather than the U.S. based brand Pitocin):
… it seems that there is little appreciation for this well documented pause amongst health professionals working in the consultant-led units of hospitals. Any stop in action once the magic ’10 cm dilatation’ is reached is met with almost instant medical intervention to get the contractions back up and running, ie a syntocinon drip. Women experiencing this are already on a consultant-led unit, where a higher level of medical intervention can be anticipated, but it is strange that there seems to be such a rush to use a syntocinon drip to get the contractions going again, providing mother and baby are both coping well.
One reason the contractions may ease temporarily is in order to allow the baby’s head to get into a better position. If this is the case, then artificially speeding contractions up is hardly likely to have the benefit of a faster birth for the woman – if anything, a slower and more complicated birth as she tries to push out a baby that is not quite in the right position. In addition, she has to cope with stronger contractions that she might find difficult to deal with, necessitating further medical help in the shape of an epidural – which in turn makes pushing the baby out even harder…
…At this stage, the woman and her partner are incredibly vulnerable to this well meant ‘help’ from midwives and obstetricians and are unlikely to question the requirement for additional medical help. It is also unlikely that the calm and relaxed environment so important for a peaceful birth can survive the worries of the health professionals, which will affect most women and their partners. via Rest and be thankful – or panic and have a drip shoved in? | Birth and Baby Wise.
I agree. In my own personal experience with my first birth, I was very vulnerable to just the perceived expectation of it being “time to push.” With later babies, it was intensely important to me that I have very few people present at the birth, knowing how sensitive I am to the expectations of those around me. It is truly only my husband and my mother than I trust to not disrupt my “birth brain” and the freedom of my birth space.
I’d love to hear more from readers about their experiences with the rest and be thankful stage.
Did you experience this lull between full dilation and pushing out your baby?
Was the lull recognized and respected by your birth attendants?
If you pushed without feeling the urge, was the pushing stage fairly long?
With subsequent babies, I had no internal checks during labor, so I never really knew if I experienced the rest and be thankful stage with them. I just pushed when my body started pushing—I have no idea how long after full dilation that was. So, I also am curious to know if women find they experience this stage with all babies, with only the first one, or with only some of their babies?
I suspect I did experience it with Alaina, because I remembering feeling concerned that contractions were suddenly “far apart.” I started talking more and analyzing myself and the labor and this was probably part of a lull in the intensity of the contraction action while my body prepared for a powerful spontaneous birth reflex.