“The best things in life are worth waiting for, fighting for, believing in, and never letting go of.” – Unknown

Having a baby involves a lot of waiting. Waiting for those two little lines to appear on that pregnancy test. Waiting to hear the sound of the heartbeat for the first time. Even waiting till you can share your secret with friends and family. Well, it turns out that scientists are now catching onto something that midwives have known for a long, long time; the benefits of waiting for a birth to unfold.

Midwives have long practiced the art of “watchful waiting” during birth. This means we acknowledge that labor progresses differently for each birthing person. Scientists Friedman and later Zhang created graphs that have been used to measure progress, called the labor curve. When labor slows- it’s often said, “she’s fallen off the curve” and interventions are introduced to meet the expected benchmarks. Rather than standardization, a midwife practices sitting quietly and listening to what an individual birthing person’s body needs to move on to the next stage. This month, new recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) provide data driven evidence for what midwives have known to be true, and passed down for centuries.

These changes indicate that rather than relying on inflexible rules to decide when to induce or perform a c-section, a woman’s individual story and plain old patience should be taken into account.  While it might look reassuring on a piece of paper to say that a cervix needs to dilate 1 cm per hour in order to have a safe birth, it turns out that sticking to these benchmarks as hard and fast rules actually increases the use of unnecessary interventions.  

The WHO recommendations cite other countries (such as Nigeria and Uganda) who use slower births without evidence of endangering mom or baby,  Additionally, the recommendations go on to say that as long as a woman’s vital signs and baby’s heartbeat are monitored and within normal ranges, women should be encouraged to choose her delivery position, including squatting or sitting. Most striking, the findings stress that moms should be involved in the decision making process and have an informed choice and the time necessary to make their decisions. We love science!

At San Francisco Birth Center we believe in the power of patience and watchful waiting. And we are of course thrilled  to see ancient midwifery wisdom become new again in the eyes of science and medicine.  Waiting a few more minutes or hours for that sweet, new baby smell can be tough, but we sit on our hands and know that it  has been proven to be worth the wait.