How Long Is the Average Length of Labor and Delivery?

Average lengths of labor

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

As your due date approaches, it's normal to wonder how long the average length of labor is for most women. This might be in hopes of predicting the length of your own labor and delivery time. The problem is that there are not really hard and fast rules about how long labor should last, as there are many factors that can affect the length of labor.

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Moms Share What Labor Was Actually Like for Them

The Average Labor Time

The length and experience of each labor are different for every woman and every pregnancy depending on a variety of factors. The factors that can affect the length of labor include:

  • Age of the mother (maternal age)
  • Contraction strength and timing
  • Natural labor vs. induction
  • The baby's position
  • Whether you've had a baby before (parity)
  • Your pelvis (shape and size)

First-time moms were reported to generally experience 6–12 hours in the first stage of labor (from the time they are dilated 4 centimeters) with an average length of 7.7 hours.​

Differences in the Length of Time

You might be thinking that the numbers mentioned above don't sound at all like the length of labors that you have heard of from your friends. This is because many people count labor very differently.

Some people consider both early labor and active labor as one and the same, while hospitals record data for active labor only. Since early labor doesn't happen in the hospital (in most cases), it doesn't appear in much of the data we have that analyzes the length of labor.

Below are some reported range averages for labor:

Active labor: This often lasts up to 8 hours on average. For some women, active labor may be even longer, while it may be much shorter for others (especially those who've had a previous vaginal delivery).

Early labor: This stage takes 6 to 12 hours on average. When the cervix dilates (opens up) and effaces (thins out) to position the baby into the birth canal, this begins early labor, to be followed by active labor.

Late-stage delivery: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that once you hit the 4-hour mark in the second stage (pushing) that intervention be considered, which may skew labor and delivery rates.

Longer labors: Both early and active labors lasting over 17 hours are considered longer. 

Second (or more) time moms: An average of 5.6 hours has been reported for subsequent deliveries. On the longer end, some second-time moms were near the 14-hour mark. 

Recent Data From the National Institute of Health (NIH)

Research data from a federal study by the NIH comparing almost 140,000 births, shows that average labor time was longer in the early 2000s than it was in the 1960s (when most labor patterns were recorded). 

It has been reported that it takes the typical first-time mom 6.5 hours to give birth nowadays, while about 50 years ago, first-time moms labored for less than 4 hours. 

Researchers attributed this difference to a variety of factors, the first one being that maternal age has increased. At the time of giving birth, the mothers in the year 2000 were on average about 4 years older than the women who gave birth in the 1960s. The study researchers cite that older mothers tend to take longer to give birth than younger mothers.

Another factor is that later-stage delivery practices have changed. In 1960s-era deliveries doctors used a surgical incision to enlarge the vaginal opening during delivery or used surgical instruments to extract the baby from the birth canal.

Nowadays, doctors may intervene when labor fails to progress by administering oxytocin or performing a cesarean delivery (delivery by C-section was four times higher in 2000 than it was 50 years prior). These are very different delivery procedures that can have an effect on labor and delivery data that is collected.

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  2. Laughon SK, Branch DW, Beaver J, Zhang J. Changes in labor patterns over 50 years. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2012;206(5):419.e1-9. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.03.003