Average Labor Time: How Long Should I Expect It to Be?

Different Factors Can Affect the Average Length of Labor and Delivery

pregnant woman in labor holding man's hand
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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.

The Average Labor Time

The length and experience of each labor is different for every woman and every pregnancy depending on a variety of factors.

The factors that can affect the length of labor include:

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

First time moms were reported to generally experience 6-12 hours in the first stage of labor (from the time they are dilated four 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 so many people count labor very differently. Some people consider both early labor and active labor as one and the same, while hospitals will record data for active labor only. That early labor is really something is not done in the hospital for many women, so it isn't really counted in many of the averages when looking at the length of labor.

Below are some reported range averages for labor:

Early labor: 6-12 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.

Active labor: 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).

Longer labors including both early and active labors: Reported averages are at just over 17 hours. 

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. 

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

Recent Data From the National Institute of Health (NIH)

New 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, firs-time moms labored for less than 4 hours. Researchers attributed this difference to a variety of factors, including:

  • Maternal age has increased. At the time of giving birth, the mothers in the year 2000 were on average about four 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.
  • 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.


Laughon, S.K., Branch, D.W., Beaver, J., Zhang, J., Changes in labor patterns over 50 years, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2012), doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2012.03.003.

US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health.NIH Study Finds Women Spend Longer in Labor Now Than 50 Years Ago. Accessed 13 April 2016.

Myles Textbook for Midwives. Fraser, D, Cooper, M. Fifteenth Edition.

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