How Long Does Labor Last?

There are no set rules when it comes to trying to determine how long labor will last when delivering a baby. We have provided some general guidelines here along with links to informative videos that will help you feel more comfortable as you prepare for the big day.

Overview of Stage 1 Labor

There are no standard numbers when it comes to determining how long stage 1 labor will last as it is different for each expectant mother. This first stage of labor will last longer for first-time mothers than for those that have previously delivered babies.

Stage 1 labor during delivery will involve early labor followed by active labor. During the period of early labor, the expectant mother will feel regular strong contractions. These contractions are preparing the body for delivery by dilating the cervix, so it dilates.

Known as effacement, early labor effectively shortens, softens, and thins the cervix to ease the passageway for the baby to start its way down the birth canal. According to the Mayo Clinic, the first stage of labor lasts longer than stage 2 and stage 3.

A slight discharge from the vagina during early labor is normal and may be clear, slightly bloody or pink. The discharge is usually from the mucus plug that protects the baby during pregnancy by blocking the cervical opening before delivery.

According to the March of Dimes, many expectant moms prefer to stay at home during this initial stage and are comfortable while waiting for their water to break before heading to the hospital. The average time for early labor ranges from about 8-12 hours, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Once active labor starts, you will experience much stronger contractions occurring more frequently. This is the point when expectant mothers should ideally head for the hospital. Your water will likely break if it has not already done so. Your cervix will continue to dilate in preparation for delivery.

The average time spent in active labor is about 4-8 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Expectant mothers will feel more pressure within the back area and the level of pain will increase. Healthcare providers often suggest breathing exercises to help expectant mothers relax and be more comfortable.

Because of the pain associated with delivery, many mothers go the route of having an epidural to help combat the discomfort. As noted by the Baby Center, suggestions to enhance comfort levels include giving the mother a massage or applying a warm compress.

Transition is the last portion of active labor, which may last up to 60 minutes. As noted by the Mayo Clinic, the stage of active labor may prompt you to want to push. If your cervix is not fully dilated yet, your doctor may want you to wait longer until stage 2 of labor starts.

Overview of Stage 2 Labor

The second stage of labor is when the time to start pushing finally arrives so you can deliver your baby. The length of time it takes to bring your baby into the world will depend on several factors. Having an epidural will prolong the process a bit, and first-time mothers can expect stage 2 to take a few hours.

During stage 2, your doctor and attending nurses will coach you as you bear down and push. During this stage of the delivery, some healthcare providers may give the expectant mother an episiotomy, which is a small incision to ease the baby out without tearing the vaginal opening. Not all mothers need this.

As your new baby starts to come into view, the head will be visible. The attending physician will gently guide the newborn out from the birth canal, and may need the assistance of specialized medical tools to help ease the process. The last stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta.

Overview of Stage 3 Labor

During the final stage 3 of labor, the placenta is delivered following the birth of your newborn baby. This stage goes relatively quickly and only takes about five to thirty minutes, but could go a little longer, up to an hour. Delivery of the placenta will involve some minor contractions as the body tries to expel it.

Once the placenta is safely out of your uterus, the attending physician will examine it to make sure no pieces remained in the body. As stage 3 of labor ends, you will continue to experience mild contractions as your uterus slowly returns to its pre-natal normal size.

The Baby Center and the March of Dimes both have informative, helpful videos that discuss the stages of labor so you will know what to expect and feel more comfortable while waiting for and looking forward to delivering your newborn baby. Feel free to bookmark them for future reference. 

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