The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital is now employing a new tool which has the potential to shorten the duration of labor, lessen the likelihood of c-sections and potentially decrease the need for an epidural during childbirth.
Called a “birthing sling,” the new birthing aid is a soft ribbon of cloth that dangles from an ‘O’ ring in the ceiling of a delivery room. Capable of holding more than 500 pounds, the sling supports the expecting mother in an upright position during labor. Masonic Children’s Hospital is the first hospital in the state to offer this option for expecting moms.
“It helps women feel empowered during labor because they’re not lying down. They’re upright playing an active role in delivery,” said University of Minnesota Health Nurse Midwife Carrie Neerland, MS, APRN, CNM. “It increases a woman’s control and allows them to be more mobile.”
The increased mobility in turn makes contractions more effective and helps the baby find the best fit through the birth canal. This helps reduce labor time and—ideally—the rate of cesarean sections, a procedure that is associated with risk of infection and increased blood loss, longer recovery time for the mother and potential breathing problems for the infant. Nationwide, about one third of all women give birth by cesarean section.
Fairview Health Services Midwife Heather Jelinek, CNM, helped implement the birthing slings and the ceiling supports needed to suspend them at Masonic Children’s Hospital. Jelinek partnered with colleague Sheila Kennedy, SNM, RN, a student nurse-midwife, to develop guidelines and patient education materials for safe use of the sling.
"The freedom to move during labor is important to many women,” Jelinek said. “By moving the bed to the side of the room and utilizing the birth slings, yoga mats and birth balls, women have the option of being upright and moving through their labor.”
Research demonstrates that mobility and upright positioning in labor also leads to a lower pain score, resulting in reduced epidural use. Experts hope birthing slings will have a similar result.
Birthing slings are used in other countries frequently, including a number of nations in Europe. Prior to this new service, University of Minnesota Health midwives and nursing staff used other tools to achieve similar effects such as exercise balls, bed sheets or the birthing bed itself.
Use of birthing slings is not recommended for all women. In order to employ the tool, women need to be healthy and capable of supporting their own weight during labor. Women with some high-risk pregnancy conditions, such as high blood pressure, may not be good candidates for the service, Jelinek said.
"This new offering coincides with the recent $21 million Birthplace renovations at our hospital," said Nurse Manager of Labor and Delivery Lisa Archer.
"During the planning phase we were very thoughtful around the promotion of normal physiologic birth and planned out where the rings and carabineers would be installed,” Archer said. “The use of labor slings fits nicely with our goal to reduce our rate of C-section births, and gives our moms increased options to promote a vaginal birth."