Royal baby birth: Why was the Duchess of Cambridge's labour slower than her last one?

Why wasn’t the Duchess of Cambridge’s labour faster than her last one? [Photo: Getty]
Why wasn’t the Duchess of Cambridge’s labour faster than her last one? [Photo: Getty]

It’s official: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed a baby boy.

At precisely 11.01am this morning, the royal couple welcomed their third child at St Mary’s Hospital in London.

But how long did her labour take in comparison to her previous pregnancies?

Kensington Palace informed the public that the 36-year-old had been admitted to hospital ‘in the early stages of labour’ before 6am this morning.

And although this was her third birth – the couple are already parents to four-year-old Prince George and two-year-old Princess Charlotte – it was not her quickest.

When Prince George was born in July 2013, the Duchess gave birth 10-and-a-half hours after being admitted to hospital.

While, Princess Charlotte was born in May 2015 just two hours and 34 minutes after Kate arrived at the Lindo Wing.

This time around, her labour is estimated to have taken over five hours.

Was the Duchess’ third labour faster than her previous two?

While it varies from woman to woman, some mums report quicker labours with each baby. In the Duchess of Cambridge’s case, her third labour was slower than her second. The 36-year-old was admitted to hospital before 6am while she experienced a 2.5 hour labour when she gave birth to Princess Charlotte.

“Midwives often speculate that first labours are long, second labours are quick and third labours are unpredictable,” explains Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at the UK’s leading provider of private midwifery care, Private Midwives.

“But in reality every labour and birth is unique and two previous labours certainly don’t equate to a pattern,” she adds.

“Birth is a complex process, affected by many factors including the woman’s body, hormones and baby’s position,” Liz Halliday explains.

Another contributing factor to the speediness of the labour process is the fact that after one birth the body does seem to “remember.”

“The muscles of the uterus seem to work even more efficiently and of course the ligaments of the pelvis have already relaxed through hormonal responses to previous and current pregnancies and births. Women tend to experience milk coming in more quickly than after a first baby too.

“I also think that once a woman has birthed a baby she has more confidence in her ability to manage labour and is therefore less anxious or even fearful. This in turn leads to a drop in adrenaline and cortisol (hormones which block oxytocin – the labour hormone) and therefore birth is often easier and quicker,” Liz continues.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge emerge after the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte [Photo: Getty]
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge emerge after the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte [Photo: Getty]

Why did the Duchess of Cambridge’s labour take longer the third time around?

Milli Hill, Author of The Positive Birth Book and birth expert at The Baby Show, which returns next month, agrees that though the evidence is pointing to the suggestion that the Duchess labour should have been fast, births are unpredictable.

“Third labours are sometimes said to be a ‘wild card’, so it’s possible it may not go exactly as her others have done – which is true of all births really – you need to expect the unexpected!” she says.

“The Duchess may experience a fast labour, which might sound ideal but for some women can be quite shocking as you literally go from Zero to Hero in such a short space of time that it can be difficult to get your head around what just happened!”

Milli explains that a fast or ‘precipitous’ labour is when your baby is born less than three hours after the start of contractions, which is much more common if, like Kate, you have already had at least one baby.

“I’m not aware of any research based explanation for this, I think the assumption is just that a woman’s body is physically more ‘ready’ for birth after she has done it at least once before, and probably more psychologically ready and willing to,” she explains.

If the Duchess had have given birth in under three hours she would be in the minority.

“It’s still fairly rare to have a precipitous labour – it only happens in about 3 per cent of births, although as the stories tend to be fairly dramatic they are often the ones we get to hear about!” Milli says.

Milli points out birth is one of the few remaining ‘unpredictable’ events.

“We don’t know when it will start, how long it will last or what it will be like! In a world where we expect immediate clear answers this can be hard to accept, but maybe it’s nice to still have some mystery left!”

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