How Long Does it Take to Give Birth?

Julie Kirk
parents holding new baby

It is difficult to predict just how long it will take to give birth. There are a number of factors that can affect the duration of your labor and delivery, therefore a precise timeframe is difficult to determine even if you've already delivered a baby or two.

What Is the Length of Time it Takes to Give Birth?

In general, the overall length of time it takes to give birth is 6 to 12 hours but may extend up to 18 hours. However, the actual time it takes to give birth will vary from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy as well. A few factors that can affect the length of your labor and delivery include:

How Long Is the First Stage of Labor and Delivery?

There are three stages of labor and delivery, however, the first stage is the most involved and takes the longest. The first stage of labor and delivery is further broken down into three more phases which include:

Early Labor

Early labor is when your true labor begins and may last from 8 to 12 hours. This phase of the first stage of labor includes:

  • Contractions that are irregular and mild but will increase in intensity and frequency
  • The passing of your mucus plug which is a pink or slightly bloody discharge
  • The possibility of your water breaking
  • Your cervix will efface and dilate to 3 cm
Pregnant woman at the hospital

Active Labor

Active labor is typically when you would head to the hospital. It can last from 4 to 8 hours. This phase of the first stage of labor includes:

  • Contractions that are consistent, stronger and closer together.
  • Your water breaking (if it didn't during early labor).
  • Your pain intensifying and pain medication may be needed as your labor progresses.
  • Concentrating on your breathing techniques.
  • Your cervix dilating to 7 cm.

Transitional Phase

The transitional phase is the most painful and intense but also the shortest. It will last 15 minutes to an hour or two. The transitional phase of labor includes:

  • Contractions that are very close together.
  • Breathing and/or panting through the contractions.
  • Extreme pressure in your lower back and rectum and the feeling that you want to push.
  • Your cervix fully dilating to 10 cm.

How Long Is the Second Stage of Labor and Delivery?

The second stage of labor and delivery begins once you are fully dilated to 10 cm. This is also when you will bear down and push. You may be pushing for a few minutes to a few hours, and may take longer if you've had an epidural or are a first-time mom. Your baby's head will eventually crown and be delivered and the body will follow shortly afterward.

How Long Is the Third Stage of Labor and Delivery?

The third stage of labor and delivery is the delivery of your placenta which is the shortest stage and takes about 5 minutes to an hour. After your baby arrives, you will continue to have mild contractions. Your doctor will have you push one more time in order to deliver the placenta. You may continue to experience small contractions which is actually helping the uterus return to its normal size.

Woman giving birth with support

How Long Will You Push Before a C-Section May Be Needed?

You will most likely need a c-section if your labor has not progressed after 4 hours of contractions, you are dilated to 6 cm or greater and your water has broke. If your doctor has given you Pitocin for induction of labor and you have failed to progress after 6 hours of contractions, this would warrant a C-section as well.

What if Labor Is Too Fast or Too Slow?

There can be problems associated with a delivery that is too fast or too slow such as:

Precipitous or Rapid Labor

Labor that lasts 3 to 5 hours is considered precipitous or rapid labor. Risks associated with this include:

  • Tearing and laceration of vagina and cervix
  • Uterine hemorrhage
  • Possible delivery in unsterilized environment posing infection risks for mom and baby
  • Baby could aspirate on amniotic fluid

Prolonged Labor

Prolonged labor is also known as failure to progress. If you are a first-time mom and your labor is lasting 20 hours, or you delivered a baby prior and your labor is lasting 14 hours or more, than you are experiencing prolonged labor. This can be caused by:

  • Baby in the wrong position
  • A baby that is too big
  • Mother's pelvis is too small
  • Carrying multiples
  • Weak contractions

Approximately one third of c-sections are performed due to prolonged labor/failure to progress.

You Will Be Closely Monitored During Labor

Every woman's labor and delivery are different. Every pregnancy is different as well. Be reassured that your doctor and the nurses will closely monitor you to make sure you have a safe delivery and a healthy baby.

How Long Does it Take to Give Birth?