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Safe Labor Expectations

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “In 2011, one in three women who gave birth in the United States did so by cesarean delivery.” While cesarean births can be life-saving for the baby, mother or both, there has been concern about possible overuse of C-sections. In addition to staying healthy during pregnancy and preparing for labor, patients and their families should learn about the normal labor process and how long it can safely last.

What is "normal" labor?

Normal labor is the process in which the uterus (womb) contracts, the cervix opens up and the baby and placenta are delivered. Labor is broken into three stages:

Stage 1

The first stage takes place from the beginning of the contractions and opening of the cervix until the cervix is completely open. It is divided into an early (latent) phase, which is less than 6 cm of cervical dilation, and later (active) phase, which is from 6 cm to full dilation of the cervix (10 cm). It can take up to 20 hours for a first-time mother to reach the active phase, and 14 hours for a mother with previous births. Every woman is different, and the amount of time may be unpredictable. Slow but progressive labor during this stage is not necessarily a reason for a C-section.

Please contact your provider for additional questions regarding your birth plan or cesarean delivery.

Stage 2

The second stage of labor includes pushing and delivery of the baby. A first-time mom may push for up to three to four hours, and a previous mom two to three hours, if deemed safe by the health care providers.

Stage 3

The third stage is the delivery of the placenta, which usually takes a maximum of 30 minutes.

The induction process (medications used to start labor before it begins naturally), may take several days.

There are things that women can do to prepare for and manage their labor to improve their chances of a vaginal delivery:

  • Start early during your prenatal care to discuss the labor process with your provider. Learn about the minimum safe time for each stage of labor.
  • Maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain often leads to carrying a large baby, which further decreases the chance of vaginal delivery.
  • Discuss any fears that you may have about pain control with your provider and decide which method is right for you.
  • If you and your doctor agree, consider delivering in one of Beaumont’s natural birthing areas, which provide a supportive, home-like environment for a safe natural childbirth experience.
  • Some women will need to be induced for the health of mom, baby or both. This involves using medications to start labor. Induction can result in longer times for the labor process and may increase cesarean section risk. An induction will only be recommended by your provider if there is a medical reason.
  • Discuss with your doctor if you can safely labor at home during the early stages. It is possible that if you are admitted too early it could increase the risk of having a cesarean section.
  • Be patient with the labor process and have a realistic expectation of the progress of labor.
  • Use different positions and birthing aids during the pushing stage of labor to help with a quicker delivery.
  • Have a support person in the labor room with you. It has been shown that having continuous support in the labor room decreases cesarean sections.