What is the longest someone has been in labor?

The length of time a woman is in labor can vary significantly from one pregnancy to the next. For most women, the active stage of labor lasts approximately 6-12 hours if it’s their first pregnancy, and around 4-8 hours if they’ve given birth before. However, some women end up having exceptionally long labors lasting days or even weeks. This leads to the question – what is the longest recorded time someone has been in labor for?

Labor is divided into three stages – early labor when the cervix begins to thin and dilate, active labor when contractions become stronger and more frequent, and transition/pushing when the cervix is fully dilated and it’s time to deliver the baby. The active stage is when labor is usually tracked in terms of duration. An abnormally long labor is considered to be more than 20 hours for first-time moms, and more than 14 hours if the woman has given birth before.

Factors That Can Lengthen Labor

There are various factors that can contribute to a prolonged labor:

The Baby’s Position

If the baby is not in the optimal head-down position and is instead breech (buttocks or feet first) or transverse (lying sideways) then this will usually result in a longer labor. Malpresentation makes it difficult for the baby to pass through the pelvis and cervix.

Size of the Baby

A larger than average baby such as those weighing 4kg (8lb 13oz) or more can make labor more lengthy and difficult. The baby may have more trouble maneuvering through the birth canal.

Weak Uterine Contractions

Inefficient uterine contractions that are not strong, long or frequent enough will slow down the stages of labor. This can result in failure to progress.

Narrow Pelvis

If a woman has a narrow pelvis it may make it challenging for the baby to descend, often necessitating medical interventions.

Prior C-Section

Women attempting a vaginal birth after a previous c-section are at risk of a prolonged labor due to scar tissue.

Medical Conditions

Certain pre-existing maternal health conditions can increase labor duration such as obesity, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

Overdue Pregnancy

Once a pregnancy extends beyond 42 weeks, labor is more likely to be longer and not progress efficiently. The placenta may not function as well after the due date.

First Labor

As the body has not undergone labor before, the process often takes longer in first pregnancies. The average first labor is 12-19 hours long.

Induction of Labor

When labor is artificially started through medical techniques like membrane sweeping or administering oxytocin, this can extend the length of labor.

Use of Pain Medication

Options like epidurals may provide pain relief but can also slow down labor.

Records for Longest Labor

So what are some of the longest documented labor cases? Here are a few remarkable stories:

75 Days of Labor

In 1842, a woman named Catharina Seraphina Shaaf is noted to have been in labor for an astonishing 75 days before delivering a 15-pound baby girl. This took place in Heerlen, Netherlands. Both mother and baby survived the ordeal.

Records from the 1800s

In the late 1800s, Dr. George Engelmann studied records of labor durations and noted some outlying cases:

  • In 1865, a woman was reported to be in labor for 5 weeks and 4 days before delivering.
  • Another case from 1877 involved a woman in labor for 4 weeks and 1 day prior to birth.

Julie Kaufer’s Labor

In 2005, Julie Kaufer of Pennsylvania went into labor in October and did not deliver her son, Benjamin, until November. Doctors estimate her labor lasted around 3 weeks.

Complications like the baby’s shoulder getting stuck resulted in the prolonged delivery. Both mom and baby fully recovered after the difficult birth.

Longest Active Labor

The longest known active stage labor was experienced by a woman named Michelle Chapman-Bendit in Sussex, UK in 1997. Her active labor lasted 43 hours and 10 minutes before she gave birth to her daughter.

Recent Long Labors

Some other more recent lengthy labor cases:

  • In 2014, Joanna Krzysztonek was in labor for 3 weeks in the UK before having an emergency C-section.
  • In 2018, first-time mom Katie Page had a labor that extended over 48 hours in Australia. Her daughter was born healthy.
  • Also in 2018, Coral Hallam-Kreutz went into labor and did not deliver her daughter until almost 3 weeks later in the UK.

World Records

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the official record holders for the longest human birth are:

Longest Labor

The longest officially recorded labor was experienced by Michelle Chapman-Bendit of the UK in 1997 with a total duration of 43 hours, 10 minutes.

Name Location Duration
Michelle Chapman-Bendit Sussex, UK 43 hours 10 minutes

Longest Interval Between Onset of Labor and Delivery

The record for the longest interval between the onset of labor and the actual delivery is held by Joanna Krzysztonek of the UK. Her labor lasted a total of 3 weeks, 1 day in 2014.

Name Location Duration
Joanna Krzysztonek Oxfordshire, UK 3 weeks, 1 day

Impacts of a Long Labor

While enduring such a lengthy labor is rare, when this does occur it can have significant effects:

Physical Effects

Prolonged labor that goes on for days or weeks can take an immense physical toll. The mother may experience exhaustion, severe pain and discomfort, dehydration, and effects from interventions like infections.

Emotional Toll

In addition to physical repercussions, an abnormally long labor process can negatively impact the mother emotionally. Stress, anxiety, depression and trauma may result.

Higher Risk of Complications

Both the woman and baby are at elevated risk the longer labor extends. Potential complications include postpartum hemorrhage, seizures, uterine rupture, cardiac arrest, and hypoxic brain injuries for the baby.

Greater Chance of Medical Interventions

The most common medical interventions with prolonged labor are oxytocin augmentation, assisted delivery such as with forceps or vacuum, and cesarean section. Labor stalling often necessitates these procedures for the safety of mom and baby.

Preventing Extended Labor

While a prolonged labor does occasionally happen, there are some things that may help reduce the chances:

  • Staying active and mobile during early labor
  • Using positions and techniques to encourage optimal fetal positioning
  • Staying well hydrated and nourished to keep energy up
  • Using relaxation and breathing techniques to work through contractions
  • Finding appropriate pain relief to reduce maternal stress
  • Trusting in the birth process and one’s ability to give birth

For pregnancies extending beyond the due date, inducing labor prior to 42 weeks may prevent inefficient labors lasting too long.


In summary, labor typically lasts under 20 hours for first-time mothers and under 14 hours for repeat births. Some extreme cases have involved labors lasting multiple weeks or even over a month. The longest officially recorded labor was Michelle Chapman-Bendit’s at 43 hours, 10 minutes. While prolonged labor is uncommon, it can result in significant physical and emotional impacts. However, there are techniques that may help reduce extended labor duration when applied appropriately. Above all, providing support and encouragement to the laboring woman is essential.

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