My labor will be HOW LONG? What will it be like?


A “textbook” labor is said to look something like this – depending on the “book”.

  • Early labor is from 0-3 cm and can last anywhere from 12-18 hours.
  • Active labor is from 4-7 cm and can last anywhere from 8-12 hours.
  • The transition is from 8-10 cm and can last anywhere from 30 minutes – 2 hours.
  • Pushing can last from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

From start to finish, the “average” birth is said to be around 12 hours.

*cue giggles from the birth professionals*

Ladies, throw out the book. Your bodies and your babies have not read the book, and even if they had, they are going to do their own thing anyway. We all want to know how long we are going to be in labor. If we were blessed enough to have a crystal ball that would answer such questions, we would gladly inform you! How many more contractions? How many more hours? Do I have time for my mom to arrive? Should I go to the hospital now or wait a while?

What it comes down to is: is my labor normal?

Here’s a bit of wisdom from us birth doulas: a body of experienced women that has been supporting birthing women for many years: the range of “normal” in birth is vast.

It’s normal to be in labor for 26 hours. Or more! That’s ok. In fact, longer labors tend to be easier for some women. The body gets slowly warmed up to its own rhythm while giving the mother’s own opiate-like hormones a chance to keep up with the changes happening in labor. Mom is able to stay in a very relaxed state the whole time. Furthermore, these opiate hormones tend to alter a woman’s sense of time. Hours and hours can pass and the birthing mother will have no idea how long she has been working on this labor.

Long labors are normal – and they aren’t automatically intimidating as they may sound.

It’s normal to be in labor for only 45 minutes until birth. Now, some people think that this is a great deal for the mom – only 45 minutes of labor! “Lucky you” they all declare! Except for one thing. Moms that have really fast labors still get an “8-hour labor” packed into that 45 minutes. Moms that have faster labors tend to feel like they were simply along for the ride that whole time. Her hormones are always trying to play catch up, and they don’t always reach their peak in such a short time. On the other hand, the birth went fast, then it’s over!

Short labors are normal – and they aren’t necessarily pure bliss because they are short!

All things related to birth vary in the spectrum of normal. It’s normal to be at 4 cm for several weeks. In fact, some have been known to be at 6 cm for a couple weeks while they were not having any contractions! It’s normal to have a cervix that is high, closed and firm at 40 weeks. It’s normal to be in active labor and still have contractions 5-7 minutes apart. It’s normal to be in early labor and have contractions 3 minutes apart. It’s normal to push a baby out in two pushes, as normal as taking several hours.

It’s normal for you and your baby. And that is good enough.