Every Labor Is Different

Labor is a unique experience for everyone and how long it lasts can vary tremendously. Childbirth Educator Kira Smith (ICCE) offers some insight into the labor process.
Kira Smith , ICCE

Your question
How long does labor usually last during a first-time birth? How long is each stage? - Kim in Pennsylvania

The expert answers
During a first-time birth, a first labor lasts 16 hours on average, however, this can vary tremendously. Labor can be divided into three stages. Stage one, where the cervix dilates, is subdivided into three phases, early, active and transition.

Early labor is the longest part, lasting eight to 10 hours. In this phase, the cervix opens from 0 to 3 cm. Contractions are mild and between five and 20 minutes apart. You may feel excited and relieved during this part of your labor.

You may notice that it takes some effort to get through the contractions as you go from early labor into active labor. You may need to concentrate as the contractions are getting longer, stronger and closer together. In active labor, contractions last about one minute and are about two to five minutes apart. Active labor lasts about three to five hours and the cervix dilates from 4 to 7 cm.

The most intense phase of labor is transition. Contractions are only about a minute apart and may last up to 90 seconds. You may experience nausea, vomiting, shaking and become very discouraged as your cervix opens from 8 to 10 cm. The good thing is that this is the shortest phase of labor and you will soon be ready to push.

Stage two is the part of labor where you push the baby out. Some women have a little resting period after the cervix opens all the way and before they get the urge to push. Contractions space back out to about five minutes apart during pushing and last for about a minute. During this phase the baby descends through the pelvis, down through the birth canal and crowns on the perineum. Pushing may last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours on average.

The third stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. This may happen anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour after the baby is born.

- Kira Smith, M.Ed, ICCEPregnancyAndBaby.com

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