Tips to Get Through a Long Labor

While the average length of a first labor is typically five to seven hours, not including inductions, the length of labor can vary quite a bit based on several factors. Physical issues such as the baby's position, the mother’s weight, and the mother's pelvis size, can influence the labor process. Other labors may be longer because of emotional issues that may include fear or worry about the birth process or anxiety about becoming a parent.

If you are experiencing emotions that you're having trouble dealing with as you prepare for your labor and delivery, talk to your doctor and seek support.

If your labor lasts more than 17 hours, a clinical intervention may be suggested to move things along. Either you or your support person should ask questions and get information before deciding how to proceed. Sometimes a prolonged labor isn't a problem, just something for you and your team to cope with. Certain interventions have potential complications and may or may not actually speed up the process.

Here are some tips to follow if you feel like your labor will never end. Just remember, the end is closer than you think, and it will be worth the hard work when you welcome your new baby into the world.

Woman holding baby in hospital bed

Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Don’t Focus on the Clock 

It’s tempting to keep checking the clock during labor. You may wonder, How long have I been doing this? How much longer will I be doing this? When will I get to hold my baby? These are all valid questions, but they ultimately keep you from focusing on the work of laboring and getting to hold your newborn.

If you can, remove the clocks near you, have them turned around, or cover them. To take your mind off of counting the minutes, you may want to listen to music, take a slow walk if you're able to, close your eyes, or have your partner give you a gentle massage.

Stay Home as Long as Possible 

As your body goes through the major changes necessary to get ready to give birth, you will be at your greatest level of comfort at home. Being able to move freely around, watch television, use your computer, or sit in your baby’s room will allow you to stay relaxed, which helps labor progress more quickly. You also have your own bathroom and tub or shower, as well as the freedom to eat or drink—which isn't always the case in the hospital.

It is much easier to pass the time in your own surroundings and it can keep your labor from stalling by going to the hospital too early.

Go With the Flow

Although it's easier said than done, try to follow your body's lead throughout labor, even during the slow periods. In longer labors, there tend to be parts that are calmer, and it may seem like things are dragging along. This is the opportunity to rest and even take a nap.

Far from being a negative thing, the slower times during the labor process are usually due to your body sensing that you need a small break before continuing. Take advantage of these breaks whenever possible.

Use Comfort Measures Early and Often 

If you're anticipating a long labor, you might be tempted to tell everyone to rest up and support you "when you really need it." But going it alone can make you more agitated and cause your contractions to feel more painful. Let your support people help you relax and be more comfortable.

Staying calm all the way through will take less energy and make you more relaxed, which helps labor progress. Also, don’t forget to move around often; a slow walk around the house (or down the hall if you're at the hospital) can keep your labor moving forward.

Start Labor off Right 

When you begin to feel the first contractions, which usually start within a few hours of your water breaking, take a deep breath and remember to relax. While the excitement of your baby's arrival might make that a bit difficult, remember that having a baby is not a sprint—it's definitely a marathon.

So whether it's in the middle of the night or during the day, try to get some rest. Eat if you're hungry, make sure all of your things are packed for the hospital, and enjoy your last few hours of pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

If your little one seems to be taking their time entering the world, stay positive and lean on your support people and health care team to help you get through your labor. Before you know it, you'll be looking back on labor and delivery as a joyful parent.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.