What is the average length of labor?

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Answered by: Joan, An Expert in the Labor and Birth Category
During my pregnancies with my two girls, I must have read hundreds of birth stories just trying to get answers to questions like, "how long will my labor and delivery last?" and "what does labor feel like?" I think it's safe to say that pretty much all women face anxiety over the impending arrival of their bundle of joy. This is because labor and delivery is such a unique experience for each woman and even varies greatly from pregnancy to pregnancy.

There are many concrete things we know about childbirth, like that there are three stages of labor, and a mother generally must dilate to ten centimeters before beginning to push, but there are just as many, if not more, unknowns about how the childbirth process will play out, even for a mother who has already had one or two or more babies.

One of the biggest variances in childbirth from woman to woman and birth to birth is the length of labor. Just like myself, many mothers-to-be wonder, "How long will my labor last?" Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. According to Mayoclinic.com, the time in labor for a first time mom typically ranges from 12-24 hours and is substantially shorter for subsequent births. How is that for a vague answer?! It surely doesn't do much to ease the mind of an anxious first time mother. You may be asking yourself, "Why is there such a vast 'average' length of time for labor?"

I realize that this is probably not the answer you want to hear, but as you have probably heard dozens of times throughout your pregnancy, the simple fact is that every pregnancy and birth is different, just like every child is different when it comes to hitting milestones. With my first daughter, my labor was just under 17 hours from start to finish and was a hospital birth complete with Pitocin, an epidural and assisted delivery. When my second daughter was born, my labor lasted just an hour and a half and she was delivered at home with no interventions. The two births could not have been more different from each other.

Although the exact number of hours is nearly impossible to predict, there are many factors that come into play during childbirth that can effect the length of labor. For example; how far you are dilated and effaced before the onset of labor, if the baby has already dropped into position before labor and even whether you receive medication for pain relief can all influence the amount of time a mother is in labor.

I know this is a question that many moms-to-be frantically search on Google and pick the brains of everyone they know who has had a baby or two, but the best advice I can offer is to be patient and let labor take its course. Remember, your baby is not on a timeline and he or she will arrive when they are good and ready. Do your research and be aware that because every labor is different, you may not fit into your medical professional's expected timeline for giving birth. If you do not wish to have medically unnecessary interventions, is ok to decline labor augmentation methods if things are not moving as fast as they would prefer. Although, do keep in mind that it will be necessary for medical professionals to intervene if they feel there is any indication of distress with your baby.

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