Giving birth to a baby is a special and unique experience for any mother.Labor and delivery can be very intimidating especially if you are a first time mom. So as the due date comes closer, a pregnant woman is filled with a lot anxiety about labor and its duration. For every woman the experience is different. For some it will be a fast labor and for others labor might last for a day or two. Well, it is difficult to predict how long your labor will last since every woman is different and no two deliveries are identical. Read on to understand the stages of labor and what to expect in each stage and how long it may last.
pregnant woman contractions

Does Labor Last For Days?

You would have heard your friends or relatives recalling their labor as lasting for two to three days. This includes the early or latent phase of labor. So yes, labor does start days before the delivery. However, it does not mean that you will experience strong contractions and pain throughout those days. So if anyone says that they were in labor for a couple of days, they are definitely not meaning the active phase of labor. They are merely calculating the time as per the signs of the early phase of labor when they felt a few twinges. The early labor phase is unpredictable. It may start and then stop. Another interesting fact is that it is not necessary that all pregnant women will experience this latent/ early phase.

What Are The Factors That Determine The Duration Of Labor?

There are several factors that determine the duration of labor:

  • Age of mother: As the age of mother increases, so will the duration of labor. This is mainly because age affects the efficiency of the uterine muscles, thereby reducing the number of effective contractions
  • Previous deliveries: The duration of labor will be longer for first time mothers. On the other hand, the duration of labor will be shorter for women who have had two vaginal deliveries within three years. If the gap between two deliveries is more than 4 years, the labor can be longer
  • Fetal position: The position of the baby influences the duration of labor. A wrongly positioned fetus prolongs the duration of labor in the second stage. If the baby is in anterior position, labor will be shorter as compared to labor with a posterior or transverse positioned baby
  • Epidural: Epidural, which is popularly accepted pain relief method used during the delivery these days, is found to increase the duration of the second stage of labor. This is because the drug relaxes the pelvic muscles resulting in less effective uterine contractions.
    According to a study conducted in this field:

    • For first time moms, the second stage of labor took 336 minutes with an epidural, and 197 minutes without an epidural — a difference of 2 hours and 19 minutes
    • For women who had given birth before, the duration of the second stage was 255 minutes with an epidural, and 81 minutes without an epidural — a difference of 2 hours and 54 minutes
    • (Source: )

  • Cervical dilation: How fast the cervix dilates also affects the duration of labor. There are several factors that determine the dilation of cervix. This again varies with woman and number of deliveries
  • The strength of a contraction: Obviously, the strength of uterine contractions have a direct effect on the duration of labor. If uterine contractions are stronger, the duration of labor will naturally decrease (provided there are no other complications)
  • The mindset of the mother: How the mother faces labor can also influence the duration of labor. If the mother is calm and relaxed, her labor will be shorter and smoother. On the other hand, if the mother is anxious and stressed, it will slow down labor and that is the last thing she will want

pregnant woman in labor

What Are The Different Stages Of Labor?

There are three stages of labor:

  1. The first stage of labor: This is the longest stage of all three. This indicates the onset of true labor (other than Braxton Hicks) until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm
  2. It is further divided into three phases

    3 Phases Of First Stage Of Labor
    Phase Dilation of Cervix Nature of Contraction Duration of Contraction Duration of Phase
    Early labor phase cervix dilates to 3 cm Irregular and mild contraction Lasts 30 to 45 seconds with 5 to 30 minutes break in between It can last around 8-12 hours
    Active labor phase cervix dilates from 4cm to 7cm Stronger and longer contractions Lasts 45 to 60 seconds with 3 to 5 minutes break in between It can last anywhere from 3- 5 hours
    Transitional phase cervix dilates fully to 10 cm Strong, intense and overlapping contractions Lasts 60 to 90 seconds with 30 seconds to 2 minutes break in between It can last around 30 minutes to 2 hours
  3. The second stage of labor: This stage of labor starts with the fully dilated cervix and ends with delivery of the baby. This stage requires active participation from the mother and is also called ‘pushing stage’. It can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Contractions can last 90 seconds with 3 to 5 minute break in between
  4. The third stage of labor: This is the shortest of all there stages of labor. During this stage, the delivery of the placenta occurs. It can last from five to 30 minutes

From drugs to breathing techniques, there are several methods to ease your pain during labor. So there is no need to worry about the duration of labor. The more you relax, easier the delivery will be. At the end all this is going to be worthwhile. Once you take your baby in your arms, you are not going to remember the duration or the pain of labor. Wish you a happy delivery.