When it gets closer and closer to your due date, you may begin to wonder, “How long will I be in labor?” After all, in the movies you see women screaming, sweating in excruciating pain for what seems like hours and hours. Let us take a step back; birth is nothing like it is in the movies or on television. Each labor and birth are completely different for each woman, but there are some facts and research that can help you understand what an average labor time for you may be.
Labor really depends on each woman and each pregnancy. There are several different things that could play a role in your average labor time. All of these factors play a role in labor time:
- Is it your first pregnancy?
- Were you active during your pregnancy?
- Did you have any complications during your pregnancy?
- Is the baby in an ideal position to be delivered?
- Have you prepared yourself by taking breathing and visualization classes?
- Have you hired a doula to support you through labor?
There are three stages of labor that create the entire labor process. The first stage is early (or latent) labor and active labor. The second stage is the birth of your baby! Stage three consists of the delivery of your placenta.
The actual start time of labor may be hard to determine. A lot of women may walk around doing everyday activities, such as baking, reading a book, walking at the park, chatting with friends and so on. They may not know they are in early labor or believe they are experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions are intermittent, weak contractions. Once you begin true labor contractions, you will recognize the difference.
Once frequent contractions begin, you are usually in active labor, so for some women you may have already been in labor for hours and not even know it! During this period of time, your cervix is softening and opening up, preparing itself for your baby to move down the birth canal. This is considered early labor, which is the longest stage of labor. Early labor is also the process of your cervix dilating from 0 to 4 centimeters. Early labor can last for hours and in certain cases, even days. This can be frustrating for some women, but do not worry, this is normal.
Active labor, the second phase of the first stage of labor, is the period of time in labor that may be the longest for some women, such as 8 hours or so. Time frames can last from 5 through 12 hours and most of those hours are when you may be experiencing contractions and not actively pushing the baby out. Active labor is also when your cervix is dilating from 4 to 10 centimeters. The very end portion of active labor is called “transition.” Transition is the most intense part of labor. During this time, you may not be very coherent, exhausted and it may be very hard to focus on continuing your breathing and visualization exercises.
How much movement you have during labor also affects your labor time. If you are lying on your back for hours and hours, having contractions and not making any progress, you are going to be in labor for a while. If you are able to get up, walk around and move in certain positions allowing your baby to move down your birth canal, your labor will be much quicker.
Stage two is when it is time to push your bundle of joy out! When it comes the time for you to push, pushing may be an hour long or 5 to 10 minutes. Usually, first-time mothers or mothers who have received an epidural may take longer because they may not feel the urge to push. Also, the time it takes to push the baby out depends on if you are doing good pushes. Making sure you are bearing down and visualizing the baby coming out will help make this stage shorter.
During the pushing stage, you may be asked not to push, even when you feel the urge. Usually, this means you are not fully dilated and they want to prevent your cervix from tearing. A lot of women are told to flow with your body and listen to what it wants you to do. Sometimes after pushing with each contraction can become exhausting, so push when you feel the urge and can give it your all.
The delivery of the placenta is the third stage of labor and is included in your labor time. A lot of women do not think of this part because their baby has already been born. After you have given birth to your baby, there is much relief. The delivery of your placenta is fairly easy and happens within 5 to 30 minutes after the baby is born. Your provider will make sure the placenta is delivered while you snuggle and have skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. Your provider will also make sure all bleeding is under control. After the delivery of the placenta, you may still continue to have some contractions, which is normal.
Laboring is a complex process and varies from woman to woman. It is important to not always focus on the numbers and timing. As long as you are well prepared for your birth, hired a doula and/or have a great support system to guide you through the three stages of labor, you will do great!