Every pregnancy is different, including the length of labor. For most first-time moms, labor lasts between 10 and 20 hours. However, labor lasts much longer for some women, and for others, it’s over in a few hours. When women have already given birth vaginally, their labor usually progresses more quickly.
Stages of Labor
The first stage of labor begins when you start having contractions that increase the diameter of your cervix and ends when your cervix is fully dilated. This stage is divided into two phases:
- early labor, when your cervix gradually dilates and
- active labor, when your cervix dilates more rapidly and contractions are stronger and closer together.
The second stage of labor – the “pushing” stage – begins when you’re fully dilated and finishes with the birth of your baby.
The third stage starts right after the birth and finishes with the delivery of the placenta.
If your labor doesn’t start on its own, your practitioner can induce contractions. He or she can also use medication and other techniques to speed up your labor if it stops progressing for some reason.
Your doctor will recommend induction when waiting for labor to start becomes riskier than inducing. This may happen when:
- You’re still pregnant one to two weeks past your due date. Professionals advise waiting no longer than that to give birth because it puts you and your baby at greater risk for the placenta losing its effectiveness to provide nutrients.
- Your water breaks and your labor doesn’t start on its own. Induction will decrease the risk of infection to your uterus and your baby.
- You develop preeclampsia – high blood pressure combined with excessive protein in your urine – which can restrict the flow of blood to your baby.
- You have a chronic or acute illness that threatens your health or the health of your baby.
- You’ve previously had a stillbirth.
You may also be induced for logistical reasons. Some women live far away from the hospital or know they have very rapid labors. In these cases, the practitioner will schedule induction when your baby’s lungs are mature, which is determined via amniocentesis (usually 39 weeks).
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