Is there any data on how to increase the likelihood of a shorter labor for first-time moms? I’ve heard crazy stories of friends being in labor for days and would love to avoid that if possible.
—Wimpy First-Time Mom
First of all: you are not wimpy. You are making a person. You’re going to give birth to a person. A person who will one day ride a bike, drive a car, have a job. That is amazing. It’s the opposite of wimpy.
But to answer your question… Labor can be long, and it is, on average, longer for first-time moms. Later births tend to be faster, especially in the active labor and pushing phase. I don’t know if this makes you feel better or worse, but when people are in labor for days (which can happen), often much of that time is early labor — more mild (not mild, but more mild than later) contractions, with longer breaks between them. The more intense active and transition phases of labor are generally shorter.
Is there anything you can do now that has been shown to shorten labor? Unfortunately, no. There is a bit of evidence, not terribly compelling, that eating dates (as in the fruit) close to labor might make things smoother. In the middle of labor, during the more active phase, breaking your water on purpose (called an amniotomy) can sometimes speed things up. And walking around during labor can also shorten it (see this post on labor positions). But for the most part, the length of your labor is just a function of your body, your physiology, and your baby’s size and position. As with the timing of labor onset, we just do not know very much about what drives it.