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A Review of Factors Associated With Dystocia and Cesarean Section in Nulliparous Women


  • Nancy K. Lowe CNM, PhD

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    • Nancy K. Lowe, CNM, PhD, FACNM, FAAN, is the Elnora Thomson Distinguished Professor in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing, Portland, OR. She is the immediate past president of the American Midwifery Certification Board and the editor of Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN).

Nancy K. Lowe, CNM, PhD, FACNM, FAAN, Elnora Thomson Distinguished Professor of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University, 3455 SW U.S. Veterans Hospital Rd., Portland, OR 97239-2941. E-mail:


The primary indication for cesarean section in nulliparous women continues to be clinical diagnoses that fall under the rubric of dystocia. These diagnoses account for approximately two-thirds of all cesareans experienced by otherwise healthy nulliparous women. Contemporary research evidence suggests that this clinical phenomenon is complex and multifactorial. This review explores factors associated with the phenomenon of dystocia in the context of a conceptual model that considers women's physical and psychological characteristics, fetal factors, intrapartum care and interventions, assessments and clinical decision-making of health care providers, the sociopolitical environment, and the social and physical environment of childbirth. Clinical recommendations include emphasis on the maintenance of normal weight and weight gain during pregnancy, delaying the admission of nulliparous women to the hospital until active labor is established, avoiding elective induction for nulliparous women, keeping women well-hydrated and well-fed during labor, providing high-quality supportive care during labor, staying the course with effective treatment when dystocia is encountered, and a renewed emphasis on the psychobehavioral preparation of nulliparous women for the realities of labor.