Q: I know that obviously it varies greatly from woman to woman, but I was curious as to how long a typical, completely natural labor is in duration. Is it measured from the first contraction to the end of the process?

Thank you,


A: Dear Arousiak, that is actually a great question. In some countries in Europe, labor begins at “Active Labor” or when contractions are regular, frequent and strong or at 4 cm of dilation. In the US, most women count their labor from the first contraction. The range of normalcy in labor and birth is huge. For example, a woman who has a 4 hour labor, is not common, but normal. On the same note, the woman who gets the 4 day labor is not common, but normal.

But to make it simple, most first time mothers labors, starting from first contraction are in average 24 hours. But before you think this is too long, remember that the longest phase of labor is Early Labor which can last for more than 12 hours and in Early Labor, most women can eat, rest, walk and even sleep in between contractions and most do not experience any discomfort.

I hope this helped.

all the best,

Ana Paula Markel ICCE, CD(DONA)
Certified Doula, Certified Childbirth Educator
DASC Director of Public Relations

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what ana has described above is exactly what my first birth was in terms of labor. early labor began around 9am and i continued on with my day, shopping, cleaning, cooking etc. until around 7pm. then things started to get a little intense in terms of the contractions and remained so until just before 7am when i gave birth. my second birth was much swifter. early labor began at 6:30am and then i gave birth at 2:19pm. that birth was amazing and i have chronicled it in an upcoming article to be published in mothering magazine. i'll be sure and post about it when it will be published.

stephanie dawn
founder, sacred birth work
i agree with ana.. if only we had a crystal ball.. for primips, first labors can be upwards of 48 hrs if prodroming, or as short as 3 hrs if preciping.. it depends..
as women are, each labor is unique..
the best thing you can do to prepare is to educate yourself, and be able to find a peaceful place in your mind.. the right support system is priceless, as well..
it is a wonderful gift to labor and give birth, as you are creating life.. try not to lose sight of that, and embrace the challenge..
Great way to answer this, Ana. In my classes, I stress over and over again how wide the parameter of normal really is (single digit hours to days). Something I think people tend to assume is that medicalized birth will be shorter because of pitocin, lack of pain, etc. What they sometimes forget is how paralyzing the highly technological environment of the hospital can be. I've seen labors last for days, simply due to a woman's anxiety over the setting in which she has chosen to give birth. Addressing the laboring woman's emotional needs is expontentially important, no matter where or with whom she gives birth.

Kimmelin Hull, PA-C, LCCE
Pregnancy to Parenthood, LLC
YOU ARE SO RIGHT!! A women needs a "safe", nurturing environment to complete her work. Look where all mammals go to give birth ........somewhere safe, quiet and away from crowds.....exactly opposite of what most hospitals offer.

My answer to "How long is natural labor??"........as long a sit takes YOU, YOUR BODY AND BABY to complete the task. It isn't a race or a contest. Too many women are "rushed" in the hospital.

Polly Logan, RN, CNM
I'm a Birthing Doula currently sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my first time mom to be assessed at the hospital (triage would not allow me in until after her assessment). She called me 24 hours ago having contractions every 7 to 10 minutes. Then her labor completely stopped late last night and did not start again until just a couple of hours ago. Her water has now broken so I'm hoping that the final part of her journey is a swift one for her. Thank goodness she was able to have a great night sleep and enjoy a beautiful sunny day at home with her husband relaxing and conserving her energy.

You really never know how swift or lengthy labor will be but that's all part of the fun :)
The length of time is unimportant. Be sure to have all that you need: Sleep, water, snacks, your husband or other to hold you and massage you. Repeat positive affirmations to yourself because ladies, you are going to need them. The transition phase can make you a little or very confused, making you doubt yourself etc. Transition brings you to a big challenge: Not being the one in control. The easier you submit, to the intense feelings of the contractions, with deep slow breathing and positive affirmations and emotional support, you can get through a long labor as easily as a short labor. Allow your self to be "swept in" with the waves and ride with them. I even told myself throughout the pregnancy that contractions feel good. I told myself during labor that the contractions feel good and they did. I passed my mucous plug at 2:14 am, my water broke at 2:59 am and my baby was born in the water at 5:29 am. Doing all that you can to relax and gives you confidence goes a long way.
a twist on this question:

Do you have the same length with all your children?

mine from the first twinge of cramping to baby poping out

twins-6 hours
singleton- 3 hours
singleton-3 hours
singleton-6 hours
TBA in November-I am hoping for another 3 hours :-)
There is simply no such thing. I will even say that focusing on what a "normal" labor is, is counterproductive to a healthy birth plan. Educate yourself on the stages of labor, realizing there is MUCH variation.
i considered my labor to begin when my water broke at home on January 5,2008 at 215 am i contacted my midwife who informed me to stay at home until the contractions were close together lasting for only seconds that was about 5am i then woke up my husband and we made our way to the birth center when we got there at 515 my midwife checked me and said i was dialated to a 3 and confirmed that my water did break i continued to wait in the waiting room as i did not want to sit in the water yet i wanted to walk, at 6am i finally decided to sit in the water i was able to continue to eat and drink as i wanted i could talk during my contractions but decided not to i wanted to concentrate on what was happening, at 7am i was completely dialated and at 735 my daughter crowned i pushed 1 time and she made her presence at 741am she was 6 lbs 9 oz and 17 inches long she scored a 10 on her apgar test and we were able to go home 4 hours after delivery i did not tear at all and no episiotomy was necessary i felt perfectly fine after delivery when i made it home i was up walking and cleaning house like nothing was wrong friends and family could not bellieve that i just had a baby and was up walking like i was and i was completely healed in 3 weeks i felt like the more i was up moving and active the faster i healed this was my first pregnancy so i was shoked at how fast my delivery was
I haven't given birth yet, but I've asked my mom about her labor with me. Apparently, she went into labor during a dinner party at ~9P. Contractions didn't get bad enough to go to the hospital until ~1P the next day. I as born 6 hours later.

I wonder if part of the problem nowadays is that women seem to think they HAVE to get to the hospital as soon as they have their first contraction. I would imagine that nothing stalls labor like being forced to lay in a bed and not letting gravity do it's job.
My cramps turned into contractions on Monday, February 2nd. I didn't sleep more than two hours that night.

Tuesday morning my fiance and I tried to go for a walk around the block, but didn't make it very far before I had to turn back. Walking definitely made them get stronger.

Tuesday night around 9:30, I called my midwife and doula (I had a homebirth) and they arrived shortly after 10 PM. I was up all night as my contractions got stronger and more intense, in and out of my claw-foot bathtub, walking up and down the stairs and rolling back and forth on the birth-ball. I also drank two protein shakes throughout the night to keep up my energy.

Ella Rose was born on Wednesday morning at 9:28.

It was a long, hard journey. I loved it's uniqueness...a dream-like memory I will never forget.



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