How long is labor?
WHAT A LOADED QUESTION! I soooooo wish I had the answer to this….I oft times tell patients that if I was able to predict how long labor would be for EACH of my pregnant moms……I mean, WE ALL KNOW that it’s different for everyone, I would NO LONGER be in the practice of medicine. I would have hit the lottery 10 times over and be off lolligagging in some far off place. No, seriously, THAT’S how unpredictable labor is.
First off, let me start by saying that labor isn’t just labor…..it is actually composed of 3 stages! Yes, you heard me correctly; THERE ARE INDEED 3 STAGES OF LABOR!
Now don’t panic, take a deep breath, and lets go through this.
During this stage, you will start to have regular uterine contractions which, because this IS labor, will start to affect cervical change. This is typically referred to as latent labor or early labor. You will notice that you are starting to BREATHE more through your contractions, you may have to take pause between routine activities; like walking, and you may start to feel more pressure in your pelvis. As previously stated, my recommendation to call your ob/gyn is when your contractions have gotten to be 7 minutes or less apart, more than an hour has passed, and you’re still having them.
While this is usually enough to send my first time moms straight to labor and delivery, my moms who have been through this before, recognizing this as early labor, may tend to hold off on notifying the on-call ob or presenting to the hospital as they prefer to do some of “the laboring” at home. Some things that may help to relieve pain/discomfort during this early stage of labor include: taking a warm shower/bath, ambulating, increasing your water intake, having your partner or spouse give you a massage, practicing your breathing techniques, etc., etc.
Early labor can last up to 12 hours in first time moms but usually is shorter with subsequent deliveries. We don’t consider you to be in active labor until your cervix has reached about 5cm dilation.
In the active phase of labor, your cervix will dilate at a much more rapid pace…….for some of you, it probably felt as if you were going to be in early labor FOREVER!!!!. Active labor lasts until you are COMPLETELY dilated; i.e., your cervix is 10cm!
Active labor…..just like it sounds, is where all the ACTION takes place. Upon entering into active labor, you will start feeling more frequent, and intense contractions (and you thought it couldn’t get any worse(smile)). Your water may or may not break on its own. You’ll start feeling more pressure, etc. Some women will experience nausea, and even vomiting as the body prepares for the upcoming delivery. You may even experience what I call “the pre-delivery shakes”.
For those of you who opted NOT to get the epidural for pain relief, positional changes, breathing techniques, cool compresses to your forehead, may help you get more comfortable…….AND PLEASE don’t worry about those bodily functions; i.e., possibly pooping(smile); while it doesn’t happen to everyone, IT’S A VERY NORMAL part of the process. I PROMISE, you don’t lose any cool points if IT happens to you. As a matter of fact, as soon as baby arrives, no one will remember it, OR any of the crazy obscenities you may have been hurling at your doctor, partner, nurse, family, during this INSANE process(smile).
The second stage of labor ensues once you are COMPLETELY dilated and ends with the BIRTH of the baby. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours depending on maternal pushing effort, and whether or not it is your first baby(it typically goes faster with subsequent deliveries). Having an epidural can sometimes affect the pushing effort with regards to moms not being able to actually feel the urge to push or tell exactly “where” to push. If this is the case, the epidural can either be turned off, or decreased.
We’ve gotten to being completely dilated, now what??!?! This may come as a HUGE surprise to most, but babies usually don’t just fall out……Now the REAL work begins!
GOTCHA! We will pick up next week and complete the stages of labor!
Hoping this blog post adds value to your day!
Until next time,
Look Better. Feel Better. Be Better.
Wife, mother, Midwesterner, and award-winning OB/GYN, Dr. Angela is equal parts best girlfriend and bold professional, supporting women’s health with innovative approaches to care and heavy doses of humor. Dr. Angela has done more than launch a successful practice, she has defined herself as a voice for a new generation of womanhood, established her ASK DR. ANGELA brand committed to authenticity, and built a community rooted in trust, candor, and compassion.