Updated: Apr 16, 2022
How long will I be in labour for?
I think this is one of the most frequently asked questions in a birth room! It is useful to understand there are different stages to the process of labour.
Latent Phase of Labour
The earliest stage where you may experience lower back or abdominal pains that are irregular and short lasting this phase may last anywhere from hours to weeks- you may have your 'show' in this stage- as long as there is no medical reason and you are term then you can stay at home for this stage.
First Stage of Labour
Your cervix has dilated to 4cm and contractions are regular, you experience 3 or 4 every 10 minutes.
You should be seen by a health care professional so you and your baby can be monitored appropriately throughout this stage.
For women having their first baby, the first stage of established labour usually lasts about 8 hours and is rarely longer than 18 hours.
For women who have had a baby before, the first stage of established labour usually lasts about 5 hours and is rarely longer than 12 hours.
Second Stage of Labour
Your cervix is 10cm or 'fully' dilated.
This can be passive (no urges to push) or active (when you are pushing).
This lasts until your baby has been born.
Third Stage of Labour
This is the stage whereby your placenta is delivered and your blood loss is stable .
So- how long does labour last?
I think this is one of the most frequently asked questions in a birth room.
And the truth is ... no one knows because our bodies and babies are all so unique.
But on average, established labour will last about 8 hours for women who are having their first baby and is unlikely to last over 18 hours.
For women having their second or subsequent baby, labours on average take 5 hours and are unlikely to last over 12 hours.
Good quality, evidence based antenatal education will help you to understand the changes your body undergoes through all these stages.
This allows you to have confidence in yourself and these time frames feel less daunting and instead mark a time of excitement for meeting your new baby.
Pip is a practicing midwife in the UK, currently working as a Delivery Suite Sister she has a wealth of experience supporting parents-to-be through all aspects of pregnancy, birth and the postpartum. Pip has trained and worked in some of the leading maternity units, has continued to study through a master's programme and is passionate about all aspects of women's health and wellness.
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