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How Long Should Labour & Delivery Last on Average?

How Long Should Labour & Delivery Last on Average?

We received very important clarifications on the dynamics of changes in the understanding of the definition ‘duration of labour’ from our project expert, HRiC activist, a Royal Medical Society member Beverley Ann Lawrence Beech (UK), who has been honourable Chair of the Association for the Improvements of Services in the Maternity Services (AIMS), founded in 1960, for over 40 years:

‘In a long article in a 1998 AIMS Journal Maire O’Regan considered the over-use of what was to become Active Management of Labour and showed how the definition of ‘prolonged labour’ had changed over the years:

‘In 1963 it was thirty-six hours, in 1968 it was twenty-four hours and in 1972 it was formally reduced to twelve hours. The increase in deliveries from 5,063 in 1965 to 8,964 in 1981 was 78 per cent.’ [1] Currently this definition has been reduced, yet again, to eight hours. No one informs the women that the primary reason for this reduction was to enable the women to be processed through the labour ward as quickly as possible.

This intervention was introduced in Ireland simply because the obstetricians closed the small local midwifery units and, as a result, the large, centralised, obstetric units became overburdened. Induction of labour was initially developed to help those women who really were overdue, but it soon became used as a key part of 'Active Management of Labour' a procedure that was developed in Ireland by Kieran O’Driscoll and was soon enthusiastically adopted throughout the world.

There was little or no concern about the extremely painful labours that resulted, the propaganda tells women that they can have quick labours, it makes no mention of the additional pain that they will suffer [2].

In a television discussion programme one woman described her discomfort at being induced, Dr Jordan implied that ‘women forget to think of the baby, that they think too much of their own comfort.’ [3]. Over the years, women’s complaints about induction of labour rumbled on.

It soon became the fashion to induce and obstetricians are still trying to justify its use. The most common reason now is that the woman is ‘overdue’.

From the editor:

There are so much contradictory information about the length of labour nowadays! Remarkably, the research data from a federal study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (US) comparing almost 140,000 births, shows that average labour time was longer in the early 2000s than it was in the 1960s. Thus, it has been reported that it takes the typical first-time mom 6.5 hours to give birth nowadays, while about 50 years ago, first-time moms laboured for less than 4 hours [4].

English speaking Wikipedia, which usually appears first in the issuance of Internet search engines, surprisingly still ‘keeps the ‘norm of the length of labour and delivery’ of 1980th - up to 20-21 hours [5]:

‘The first stage typically lasts 12 to 19 hours, the second stage 20 minutes to two hours, and the third stage five to 30 minutes.’

At the same time Russian speaking article in Wikipedia ‘squeezes’ the ‘norm of normal birth’ up to 11 hours, conforming the above mentioned statements of AIMS Journal [1], ‘The normal duration of labour may vary slightly. As a rule, the second and subsequent births are faster than the first.

  • In primiparas, about 9-11 hours on average.
  • In multiparas, about 6-8 hours on average.’ [6]

In this regard, it is necessary to remember the reason for such a ‘normalization’ of the duration of physiological birth in the modern world, which Mrs. Beech points out above [2]; to study your biological ‘norm’ and not focusing on Wikipedia as well☺.


  1. AIMS Journal, Vol. 10, No 2, summer 1998, p.1-7.
  2. Personal correspondence with a scientist, researcher, HRiC activist Beverly Lawrence Beech.
  3. AIMS Quarterly Newsletter, March 1976, p.11.
  4. Laughon, S.K., Branch, D.W., Beaver, J., Zhang, J., Changes in labor patterns over 50 years. 2012. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Accessed March 1, 2020.
  5. Childbirth. Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed March 1, 2020.
  6. Childbirth. Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed March 1, 2020.


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