Protracted labor, also known as prolonged labor, is a term used in obstetrics to describe a labor that is lasting longer than expected. This typically means labor that lasts more than 20 hours for first-time mothers, and more than 14 hours for women who have already given birth. This condition can be caused by various factors including a large baby, a small birth canal, ineffective contractions, or slow effacement and dilation of the cervix.

Key Takeaways

  1. Protracted labor, also known as prolonged or slow labor, is a condition where labor lasts longer than normal. This typically refers to labor lasting more than 20 hours for first-time mothers, and more than 14 hours for women who have previously given birth.
  2. Reasons for protracted labor can vary and include a large baby, an irregularly shaped or small pelvis in the mother, insufficient contractions, or the baby being in an abnormal position. Psychological factors, such as a mother’s fear or stress, can also contribute to protracted labor.
  3. Protracted labor can carry risks both for the mother and the baby. For the mother, these can include increased risk of infection, postpartum hemorrhage, and psychological distress. For the baby, the risk of asphyxia and infection is increased. It is crucial to manage protracted labor correctly under medical guidance.


The term “protracted labor” in motherhood is crucial as it relates to prolonged childbirth, which can be hazardous to both the mother and the baby.

It refers to a situation where labor progresses more slowly than usual, usually due to various reasons such as the baby’s size, position, or the mother’s pelvis size.

Protracted labor is monitored closely by medical professionals because it can lead to complications like fetal distress, maternal exhaustion, increased risk of infection, and, in severe cases, it can escalate to obstructed labor which is a major cause of maternal and infant mortality.

Therefore, understanding this term is vital in ensuring the well-being and safety of mothers and their newborns.


Protracted labor, also known as prolonged labor, primarily refers to the slower-than-normal progression of labor during childbirth. It serves as a significant indicator to healthcare professionals about the status of a woman’s labor journey and helps guide their actions accordingly. A thorough understanding of this term can aid in predicting potential challenges and complexities during the childbirth process.

The purpose of identifying protracted labor is to ensure the safety and welfare of both mother and child during delivery. It becomes critical to monitor it closely, not just for the actual process of giving birth, but also for managing the potential short and long-term impacts on the woman’s overall health. The use of the term is prevalent in the field of obstetrics.

While labor experiences vary among women, some standard benchmarks determine the typical progress of labor. When these benchmarks are not met, an obstetrician may diagnose the woman with protracted labor. The recognition of the state of protracted labor is necessary as it should trigger a series of medical interventions designed to assist the labor progression, while minimizing risks.

Having measures for such scenarios helps ensure hospitals and birthing centers provide the best care possible.

Examples of Protracted labor

Protracted labor, commonly referred to as a long labor, is a situation where the delivery of a baby takes much longer than is standard. Here are three real-world examples:

A first-time mother expecting a natural birth might have prepared herself for labor to take time, but not nearly as much as the 36 hours she actually spent in labor. Her baby was in the posterior position, which is a common reason for protracted labor. Throughout this time, she received assistance from medical professionals to ensure her and her baby’s well-being until she could finally give birth, marking this experience a case of protracted labor.

Another example could be a woman expecting her second child, assuming her labor would be quicker than the first as it usually is the case. However, due to some complications, her labor can last over 24 hours, longer than her first birth experience, marking this incident as a case of protracted labor.

Lastly, there could be an instance where a pregnant woman with a small pelvis has difficulty delivering the baby, leading to a labor that lasts for more than 20 hours. This case could be due to Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD) where the child’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis, resulting in protracted labor. Such circumstances often require medical intervention to safeguard the mother and baby’s health.Each case of protracted labor is unique and depends on various factors including the baby’s position, the mother’s health, size of the baby, and more. All cases, however, require careful medical attention to secure the wellbeing of the mother and the baby.

Frequently Asked Questions about Protracted Labor

What is Protracted Labor?

Protracted labor, also known as prolonged labor, refers to labor that lasts longer than expected. This is often defined as labor that lasts more than 20 hours for first-time mothers and more than 14 hours for mothers who have previously given birth.

What causes Protracted Labor?

Protracted labor can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a large baby, an unfavorable position of the baby, weakness of uterine contractions, or a small pelvis size in the mother. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

How is Protracted Labor managed?

Protracted labor is often managed through interventions to speed up labor, such as the use of medications to strengthen contractions or procedures to manually adjust the baby’s position. In some cases, a cesarean section may be necessary.

What are the risks associated with Protracted Labor?

The main risks associated with protracted labor include increased stress and fatigue for the mother, a higher likelihood of needing a cesarean section, and potential distress for the baby. However, with appropriate management, most mothers and babies do well.

Can Protracted Labor be prevented?

There is no surefire way to prevent protracted labor, as it can be due to unpredictable factors. However, regular prenatal care can help to identify potential issues early on. Techniques such as exercises and relaxation techniques may also be useful for promoting a more efficient labor.

Related Motherhood Terms

  • Dystocia
  • Prolonged birth
  • Obstetric emergency
  • Fetal distress
  • Caesarean section

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