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rapid labor

Precipitous or Rapid Birth

CNM Anne Margolis talks about what to do the baby is coming before you can reach a care provider - also known as a precipitous labor / rapid labor. Subscribe to Ask the Midwife Newsletter:

What is precipitous birth?

Precipitous birth is medically defined as a birth that occurs in three hours or less— from the onset of regular labor pattern to baby being born. Sometimes, though, it can happen much more quickly than that — two hours, one hour, even 30 minutes! It tends to happen more often in second and subsequent births, but it can happen to a first-time mama too! A mama can also be in earlier stages of labor but rapidly progress to later stages and pushing.

Is it dangerous?

There are some potential risks, which is why it is important to get help; but in the vast majority of cases, the outcome for mom and baby is good. Normal, natural births are not considered emergencies. Precipitous birth is a variation of normal and natural — it’s just crunched into a smaller timeframe than usual!

What do I do if it happens to me?

First and foremost, stay calm! There is no need to panic. Take a deep breath and feel yourself grounded on the surface you are on. Remember your body knew how to grow your baby, it knows how to give birth, and your baby knows how to be born. Connect to the divine, to the spirit of your own understanding, and know you and your baby are guided and protected. It never hurts to say a prayer for the wellbeing of you both. You can act more effectively when calm and it is ideal to bring baby into an environment that is peaceful and gentle. If you were planning to go to a hospital or birth center, but you are feeling like you’re ready to push, don’t get in the car. It is safer to have the baby at home than on the side of the road. Instead, find a comfortable spot to labor in and have your partner call 911, and then call your care provider. Ask your provider to stay on the phone until help arrives. If you were planning a home birth but haven’t called the midwife yet, call your midwife, and keep her on the phone or Facetime until she arrives. Then find your comfortable spot, and ask your partner to put water proof padding under you, such as a flannel backed table cloth, comfortable flannel side up, or even a shower curtain, with Chux pads or cloth versions of them on top.  Remove your pants and underwear. Your care provider will hopefully stay on the phone with you and guide you as you birth your baby. Have your partner gather clean blankets and towels for the baby.

Are precipitous labor sensations much different than those of a longer labor?

This is subjective, some mamas love their fast birth and are grateful for the surprise and that they were not in labor for a long number of hours. Some mamas can find themselves overwhelmed by a labor that ramps up quickly with little warning. It might seem harder to cope when she hasn’t had time to process what’s happening. It is helpful for the partner to remind her that things are progressing quickly because everything is going right. Helping mama into a side-lying position or hands and knees can help slow things down slightly and give her a better sense of control. Help her tap into her slow deep breathing to keep her relaxed, and when pushing, pant through pursed lips to not only help slow things down, but prevent tearing as baby is emerging. Tension and fear not only don't help anyone, they make things worse. It is important to stay calm, take some deep slow releasing breaths, feel yourself on the ground or whatever is beneath you. Find your center. And remember, birth works the vast majority of times or we would not have survived as humans; it really is an instinctual process - mamas's bodies know how to give birth and babies know how to be born; we just need to get our minds out of the way. As renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin says..."Let your monkey do it."

PPhoto credit:  @marivette8

PPhoto credit: @marivette8

Is there any way to predict if I will have a precipitous birth?

There is no real way to know if you will have a very fast labor, although it is more common in mamas who have given birth vaginally before. If you had a fast labor with previous babies, it is more likely you’ll have another fast labor, and you should prepare for one. If labor begins and contractions are quickly close together (i.e. every few minutes for a first time mom or approximately every 5 minutes for a subsequent vaginal birth), lasting 45 seconds or longer and feel intense enough that you can not talk through them, make sure you don’t wait to contact your care provider. Also, keep your provider updated with changes in a “normal” or fairly typically progressing labor, and definitely if your main bag of water breaks and the amniotic fluid releases.

Image by Megan Hancock Photography

Image by Megan Hancock Photography

What else can I do to prepare myself?

Don’t forget to check out my LOVE YOUR BIRTH Online Childbirth Education Course! With 10 educational and empowering videos, and many bonus materials, it is everything you need to prepare yourself for the birth YOU want, to feel confident and empowered for however your birth unfolds, and not only ROCK, but also LOVE your journey. There is whole section devoted to you and to your partner about this topic in much more depth, so that you are both prepared for the most exciting adventure of a lifetime. Learn more here.