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Experts say innovative labor sling may help reduce Cesarean rate and promote a natural birth

The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital is the only labor and delivery unit in Minnesota to offer a labor sling for expecting mothers.
Midwives Carrie Neerland, PhD, APRN, CNM (pictured) and Heather Jelinek, CNM, say a labor sling tool available at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital will help reduce Cesarean birth rates.

The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital employs a tool that has the potential to shorten the duration of labor, lessen the likelihood of Cesarean births and potentially decrease the need for an epidural during childbirth.

Called a “labor sling,” the birthing aid is a soft ribbon of cloth that hangs from an ‘O’ ring in the ceiling of a birth room. Capable of holding more than 500 pounds, the sling supports the expecting mother in an upright position during labor. University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital was the first hospital in the state to offer this option for expecting moms.

Learn more about The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Register for a tour today.

“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, PhD, 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 births, 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 birth.

Fairview Health Services Certified Nurse Midwife Heather Jelinek, DNP, APRN, CNM, helped implement the labor slings and the ceiling supports needed to suspend them at University of Minnesota 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 labor slings will have a similar result.

Learn more about birthing options at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.  

Labor slings are used in other countries frequently, including a number of nations in Europe. Prior to the introduction of the labor sling at our hospital in 2016, 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 labor 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.

“The use of labor slings fits nicely with our goal to reduce our rate of Cesarean births, and gives our moms increased options to promote a vaginal birth," said Becky Gams, an advanced practice nurse leader at The Birthplace at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Oct. 31, 2016, and has been updated to ensure continued accuracy and comprehensiveness.