Background: Physiological plateaus (slowing, stalling, pausing) during normal labor and birth have been reported for decades, but have received limited attention in research and clinical practice. To date, heterogeneous conceptualizations and terminology have impeded effective communication and research in this area, raising concern as to whether some physiological plateaus might be misinterpreted as dystocia. To address this issue, we provide a point of orientation, mapping contemporary concepts, and terminologies of physiological plateaus during normal labor and birth.
Methods: We conducted a scoping review, considering published and unpublished reports of physiological plateaus, reported in any language, between 1990 and 2021. Database searches of CINAHL, EMBASE, Emcare, MIDIRS, MEDLINE, Scopus, and Open Grey yielded 1,953 records, with an additional 35 reports identified by hand searching. In total, 43 reports from eleven countries were included in this scoping review.
Results: Conceptualizations of physiological plateaus are heterogeneous and can be allocated to six conceptual groups: cervical reversal or recoil, plateaus, lulls during transition, “rest and be thankful” stage, deceleration phase, and latent phases. Across included material, we identified over 60 different terms referring to physiological plateaus. Overall, physiological plateaus are reported across the entire continuum of normal labor and birth.
Conclusions: Physiological plateaus may be an essential mechanism of self-regulation of the mother-infant dyad, facilitating feto-maternal adaptation and preventing maternal and fetal distress during labor and birth.