How much pregnancy labor a first time mom experiences

Labor is the process by which a baby is born. Labor for a first-time moms typically lasts for 12 to 18 hours.
Labor is the process by which a baby is born. Labor for a first-time moms typically lasts for 12 to 18 hours.

If you are a mom-to-be, feeling anxious about childbirth is normal. Understanding how much pregnancy labor a first time mom may experience and how long it lasts will help you know what to expect. 

What is labor?

Labor starts when your baby tries to leave your womb or uterus. It can occur between 37 weeks and 42 weeks. 

Every woman experiences labor differently. During your first pregnancy, you may experience labor pain symptoms that feel like abdominal or lower-back pain, severe pressure, or wave-like contractions like menstrual cramps.

With labor pain, you will experience discharge or trickling of amniotic fluid when your water breaks. 

Stages of labor and how long they last

‌Most women experience the following three stages of labor. 

The first stage

‌In this stage, you experience strong, regular contractions which open your cervix and move your baby into position for birth. This stage ends when your cervix dilates up to 10 centimeters. 

How long it lasts: For first-time moms, this stage of labor is the longest. You may experience a 12- to 24-hour long first stage. 

‌The first stage is divided into: 

1. Early labor: You will start having mild contractions 5 to 30 minutes apart lasting between 60 and 90 seconds. You may have bloody vaginal discharge. Your cervix will dilate to 6 centimeters.

‌How long it lasts: For most first-time moms, early labor can occur for 6 to 12 hours.

2. Active labor: Your contractions will now become regular, stronger, and more painful. They will occur 3 to 5 minutes apart and last for approximately 45 seconds. At this stage, your cervix will become thin and dilate between 6 and 10 centimeters. You may experience abdominal or lower-back pain, and you will be taken to a hospital.

‌How long it lasts: Active labor usually lasts about 4 to 8 hours and can even extend beyond 8 hours during your first pregnancy.

3. The transition to the second stage of labor: Your contractions become more frequent and last from 60 to 90 seconds. You may also feel severe pressure in the lower back and abdomen. This is the most painful phase of labor. If you feel like pushing, inform your doctor.  

How long it lasts: For first-time moms, this phase can last from 15 minutes to an hour.

The second stage

‌As you enter this stage, your cervix will be completely dilated to 10 centimeters and ready for childbirth. This stage is tough work. You will be asked to start pushing the baby out. This stage can be long for first-time moms. But labor pains can be reduced using an epidural. This is pain-relief medication that is injected into your lower back. 

Your contractions will now occur every 2 to 5 minutes. Your baby’s head will start crowning or showing through the vaginal opening. Your doctor will ask you to push during contractions and rest in between. 

Rarely, an episiotomy, or a small cut at the vaginal opening, is done to make more room for the baby. Your doctor may guide your baby out of the vagina using forceps or suction.

When your baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, the second stage of labor is complete. 

How long it lasts: Until the baby is born, the second stage lasts from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Although it is the shortest stage , it may take longer, up to 4 hours, for first-time moms or those who are given an epidural. 

The third stage of labor

‌The final and shortest stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. In your womb, the placenta supplies food and oxygen to your baby through the umbilical cord. After your baby is born, the placenta is expelled from your birth canal. 

During this stage, you will experience frequent and less painful contractions than those in the second stage. These contractions help detach the placenta from your womb.  

Your doctor will now make sure you and your baby are alright. As a first-time mom, celebrate the first moments with your baby. You can also start breastfeeding your baby within an hour after birth.

‌How long it lasts: Pushing the placenta out usually takes 5 to 30 minutes. First-time moms may take up to an hour to deliver the placenta.

Without any medical complications, the entire process of childbirth can last from 12 to 18 hours for first-time moms.

Other considerations

‌Labor can seem like a long and difficult period for first-time moms. But patience and enough rest can get you through all the stages. Here are some important considerations for first-time moms. 

Braxton Hicks contractions: You may experience false contractions or Braxton Hicks contractions, which can be confused with labor contractions. These occur randomly and don’t have patterns like labor. They easily go away when you rest or change your position. 

Multiple pregnancies: If you’re expecting multiple babies during your first pregnancy, the second and third stages of labor can be longer. 

Preterm labor: Labor contractions at 37 weeks of pregnancy are preterm and require immediate medical attention.  

Inducing labor: If you don’t experience labor within 2 weeks after your due date, your doctor will induce labor. 

Cesarean section: A cesarean section involves delivering a baby through surgery. If you or your baby experience medical complications, your doctor may suggest a cesarean delivery.

A planned cesarean section is usually done after 39 weeks of pregnancy. If you experience labor before the surgery, consult your healthcare provider immediately. 

If you experience heavy bleeding or pain, ensure that you seek medical help as soon as possible. 

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Medically Reviewed on 8/17/2021
References
SOURCES:

ACOG: "How to Tell When Labor Begins."

Cedars Sinai: "First Baby: What to Expect"

Hutchison, J., Mahdy, H., Hutchison. J. StatPearls, "Stages of Labor," StatPearls Publishing, 2021. MARCH OF DIMES: "STAGES OF LABOR."

NIH: "When does labor usually start?"

OASH: "Labor and Birth."