Labour today takes longer than 50 years ago

Changes in the delivery room, along with our age and weight, could explain why our babies are taking longer to be born today than they were 50 years


Not only are our babies bigger than ever, giving birth is taking an average of two and a half hours longer than it did in our grandmas’ day, according to new research.


Comparing nearly 140,000 births in the USA, researchers have suggested the definition of ‘normal’ labour should be changed to reflect modern figures. Today, first-time mums are in labour for around six and a half hours, while 50 years ago labour lasted four hours.

The researchers have suggested the ‘labour curve’, which has been in use since the 1950s and which helps doctors decide when it’s time for an emergency caesarean, needs a rethink to reflect these new numbers.

“The past definitions of a ‘normal’ labour – the range of times when a woman in labour reaches certain milestones – was laid down in the 1950s,” explained Dr Katherine Laughon, who led the study. “But what we’ve shown is that labour is actually longer than it was 50 years ago. That certainly calls for a reassessment of when one should draw the line for caesarean delivery.”

Experts have suggested several reasons for the increase in the length of our labours. One may be the use of epidurals, which are now more common and can increase labour time. Mums who plump for epidurals also can’t freely move around – something that can help speed up labour.

Other reasons include our changing age and weight. The average first-time mum is older than she was five decades ago and more likely to be overweight or obese – all factors that can increased the length of labour.

Plus, things have changed in the delivery room. Intervention such as episiotomies and the use of forceps by doctors has decreased, making birth more natural, if slower.

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