Impact factors on fetal descent rates in the active phase of labor: a retrospective cohort study

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To assess fetal descent rates of nulliparous and multiparous women in the active phase of labor and to evaluate significant impact factors.


In a retrospective cohort study at the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, we evaluated 6045 spontaneous vaginal deliveries with a singleton in vertex presentation between January 2007 and July 2014 at 34 0/7 to 42 0/7 gestational weeks. Median fetal descent rates and their 10th and 90th percentiles were assessed in the active phase of labor and different impact factors were evaluated.


Fetal descent rates are exponentially increasing. Nulliparous women have slower fetal descent than multiparous women (P<0.001), ranging from 0 to 5.81 cm/h and from 0 to 15 cm/h, respectively. The total duration of fetal descent in labor is 5.42 h for nulliparous and 2.71 h for multiparous women. Accelerating impact factors are a lower fetal station, multiparity, increasing maternal weight and fetal occipitoanterior position, whereas epidural anesthesia decelerates fetal descent (P<0.001).


Fetal descent is a hyperbolic increasing process with faster descent in multiparous women compared to nulliparous women, is highly inter individual and is associated with different impact factors. The diagnosis of labor arrest or prolonged labor should therefore be based on such rates as well as on individual evaluation of every parturient.

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