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How to Recognize Emotional Dystocia in Labor

Emotional dystocia in labor that is unresolved can lead to a cesarean. Emotional dystocia is the clinical term for emotional stress. When a woman experiences emotional stress in labor, the catecholamines in her body rise. The excessive level of catecholamines in her body will reduce circulation to the placenta and the uterus during labor which will cause ineffective contractions to take place.

If ineffective contractions become the consistent labor pattern, an induction may become necessary, therefore increasing the chance of a cesarean. The following steps will help you recognize emotional dystocia in the laboring woman.


6 Steps to Recognize Emotional Dystocia in Labor

How to Recognize Emotional Dystocia in Labor


1. A woman who is experiencing emotional dystocia may or may not exhibit any or all of the things listed below.

However, if you do reconize a few or seem to notice a pattern, it is best to try and talk with her to see if you can help resolve the problem.


2. Look for obvious signs of fear or anxiety.

These signs can be presented with or without contractions. Showing fear or anxiety during the active or transitional phase of labor can definitely point to emotional dystocia.

Look for key words such as: scared, afraid, losing control, panic, can’t, won’t and don’t. A mother who is fearful during labor or has a high level of anxiety will often say what she feels hoping that someone has an answer.


3. Check to see if she is staying alert to everything that is going on.

Sometimes, when a mother is in active labor or transition, she becomes more inward in trying to deal with the pain. A mother who hears, sees and questions everything going on around her may be afraid or leery of the process or even those around her.

She will constantly watch the monitor to make sure everything is fine, or she may get angry and feel that the monitor is not registering her contractions correctly.


4. Listen for really strong reactions to mild contractions.

Oftentimes, a mother who has emotional dystocia will react very strongly and negatively during very mild contractions. She may or may not admit that they are mild, but she has an inability to process and deal with the pain.


5. Look to see if she is acting out of control during contractions.

Some signs which show she is out of control are: screaming or hollering, throwing things, not responding to suggestions or questions from you or other caregivers, verbally giving up and wanting it all to end very quickly. If a mother is acting so out of control that she could potentially hurt her baby, seek help immediately.


6. If you see any of these signs that point to emotional dystocia, have a talk with the mother.

Ask her about her concerns and find out if anything in particular is bothering her. It may be that she doesn’t understand the process or that she might have experienced abuse in her past. There are a variety of reasons that a mother may experience emotional dystocia, and no reason should ever be assumed.


Tips and Warnings

  • Always ask a mother if she would like to talk about anything that she thinks may be contributing to her distress. Work through it together.
  • If a mother displays signs of emotional distress that could potentially harm her baby, seek assistance immediately.

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