Prolonged labor, also known as failure to progress, refers to labor that lasts about 20 hours or more for first-time mothers and about 14 hours or more for mothers who have given birth before. It typically happens when the cervix isn’t opening fast enough during active labor. This condition can exhaust the mother and raise the risk of infection, postpartum hemorrhage, or delivery complications.

Key Takeaways

  1. Prolonged labor, also known as failure to progress, occurs when labor lasts for approximately 20 hours or more for first-time mothers and 14 hours or more for women who have already had children. It’s important to diagnose and manage it properly to avoid complications.
  2. Several factors can contribute to prolonged labor such as malpresentation of the baby, large baby size, small maternal pelvic size, weak uterine contractions, or psychological factors such as stress or fear.
  3. It can lead to a number of risks for both mother and baby, including increased risk of infection, birth injuries, need for cesarean section, and in severe cases, stillbirth. Therefore, swift medical interventions are necessary.


Prolonged labor, also called failure to progress, is an important term in motherhood because it refers to a situation during childbirth where labor lasts longer than expected.

This can potentially lead to complications for both the mother and the baby.

Typically, labor is considered prolonged if it lasts for over 20 hours for first-time mothers and over 14 hours for those who have given birth before.

The causes of prolonged labor can include a large baby, an unusually small pelvis, weak contractions, or the baby’s position in the womb.

It’s critical to identify and manage prolonged labor effectively to ensure the wellbeing of the mother and child, as it may result in dangerous outcomes like infection, neonatal asphyxia, or the need for emergency intervention methods.


Prolonged labor, also known as failure to progress, is often referred to in the context of motherhood and childbirth, serving as a vital term for determining the progression and health of the delivery process. It’s a term that is useful in identifying and managing potential complications during childbirth.

Birth attendants or obstetricians utilize this term to describe a labor that lasts for about 20 hours or more for first-time mothers, and about 14 hours or more for women who have already had children. The purpose of identifying prolonged labor is to prevent both maternal and fetal distress that can occur as a result of a drawn-out childbirth process.

Understanding and recognizing prolonged labor leads to effective decision making regarding the need for possible medical interventions. These interventions can be a possible cesarean section, or the use of medications to speed up labor thus reducing possible health risks to both the mother and baby.

Hence, the term helps healthcare providers to take timely decisions and specific actions to ensure a safe delivery.

Examples of Prolonged labor

Jane’s First Child: Jane was in labor for about 24 hours with her first child. She entered the hospital early in the morning but it was not until the next day when she finally gave birth. Many factors can attribute to prolonged labor, including baby’s position in the womb and size, or the mother’s narrow pelvis. Jane’s midwife identified that the baby was in a posterior position, which extended her labor period.

Priya’s Second Delivery: Priya had experienced a normal labor with her first child. However, her second one was different and turned into a case of prolonged labor, lasting over 18 hours. The doctor tried to alleviate the labor through medicinal support. However, ultimately, the doctor had to perform a cesarean section as prolonged labor was elevating the risk for both mother and baby.

Emergency Situation for Emily: Emily was in labor for 36 hours. Despite her contractions starting off steadily, her cervix dilation became extremely slow and stopped progressing at a certain point. The doctor diagnosed it as prolonged labor and there were discussions of health risks, including severe exhaustion, infections, etc. The medical professionals decided to intervene using vacuum extraction to assist the birth and ensure Emily’s safety.

Frequently Asked Questions about Prolonged Labor

What is prolonged labor?

Prolonged labor, also known as failure to progress, refers to labor that lasts more than 20 hours for first-time mothers and more than 14 hours for mothers who have already had children.

What causes prolonged labor?

Prolonged labor may be caused by a variety of factors including a large baby, an abnormal birthing position, a small birth canal, or lack of strong uterine contractions.

What are the risks associated with prolonged labor?

Some of the risks of prolonged labor can include increased risk of infection, a higher rate of caesarean delivery, and potential stress for the baby. However, with proper medical intervention and care, many of these risks can be significantly reduced.

How is prolonged labor treated?

The treatment for prolonged labor depends on the cause. It may involve medical interventions such as changing the mother’s position, administrating medication to enhance contractions, or even a caesarean delivery in some severe cases.

Can prolonged labor be prevented?

It’s difficult to prevent prolonged labor entirely due to its often unpredictable nature. However, regular prenatal care can help identify potential risk factors and prepare for the possibility. Also, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and birth preparation classes can be beneficial.

Related Motherhood Terms

  • Braxton Hicks Contractions
  • Cervical Dilation
  • Obstetrician Consultation
  • Epidural Administration
  • Emergency C-Section

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