What is Precipitous Labor?

Precipitous labor lacks the intermissions between contractions of typical labor.
Precipitous labor occurs when the total amount of time spent during labor and birth is three hours or less.
Precipitous labor can be caused by cocaine use during pregnancy.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Sicko Atze Van Dijk, Tyler Olson, Hamsterman
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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While labor and delivery can last a very long time, some women have what is called precipitous labor. This is when the total time between the beginning of labor and birth is three hours or less. This is not that common, but under certain circumstances it can occur, and it has a unique set of problems that should be managed carefully.

Symptoms of precipitous labor may begin with true contractions that don’t seem to have intermissions. One contraction tends to directly follow another without a time interval. If you are at home, and your contractions are occurring quickly without breaks in between, you may be progressing in labor more quickly than most people. If you are some distance from a hospital, this form of contractions is an indication to call 911, because it is possible that you may deliver without medical help before you even get to the hospital.

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Some women seem more predisposed than others toward precipitous labor. It may more readily occur in women with roomier pelvises, and it is more likely to occur in women who have had more than one previous child. A woman who has had precipitous labor with a past pregnancy is also at greater risk for having it again, and sometimes smaller babies who are in the ideal position simply come faster. One risk factor you can control is drug use: cocaine use during pregnancy can cause this type of labor and it goes without saying that illegal drug use during pregnancy is extremely dangerous. Other times, when women are being given pitocin to induce labor creates precipitous labor, though this is still rare.

While it might seem ideal to women who have had long labors to get through labor and delivery quickly, precipitous labor is not ideal for mother or child. Pain is intense and mothers may not have access to pain medications because of the rate at which labor is progressing. There is greater risk of tearing, uterine bleeding, hemorrhage, and low oxygen levels for mom and baby.

Precipitous labor can also result in fetal distress, and some children may have head injuries because they pass through the birth canal so quickly. In rare instances, this quick passage may result in pneumothorax, where a lung collapses. When possible this form of labor is best managed in a hospital setting where doctors are on hand to help treat a distressed infant, or a mother with complications.

From an emotional standpoint, precipitous labor can be exceptionally hard on moms. There is no way to appropriately describe the intense pain that laboring moms may have, and what makes it especially challenging is that there is little that can done to relieve pain. Usually any childbirth methods learned fail to comfort and many forms of pain relief are contraindicated. Moms may feel very disappointed in a rapid and frightening birth experience, and this could potentially cause the baby blues or contribute to postnatal depression.

Under certain circumstances, doctors will decide to do a cesarean section to end precipitous labor quickly. Not all doctors agree on this step. Many children are born healthy and well despite this fast labor, and a c-section may pose increase risk to both mother and child.

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anon966107
Post 28

I am so relieved to have read this article! My first daughter was born in under an hour from the starting of my contractions. I had dilated 5cm in under 10 minutes and the pain was absolutely excruciating, even though I have a high pain tolerance. My daughter was born healthy and happy, although she had fluid in her lungs that would cause her to cough and choke.

anon355820
Post 27

I have had four labours like this. My first child was born at 32 weeks. She came out when my waters broke. My second was delivered by my husband at home on our sofa, the third in the hospital lift and the fourth was induced at 38 weeks on the bed, as it happened too quickly to get to the delivery room.

I have never had stitches and on the second and third, never had pain-- just felt "odd" until the actual birth! My fifth and last pregnancy ended in miscarriage at five months after finding no heartbeat at my five month scan. I was told to go home to take in the sad event, but on going home, I began to bleed. I went back to the hospital where I was told to go home since nothing was happening. When I told them about my previous deliveries, they said it wouldn't be like that this time. On arriving home. I miscarried my little boy on the floor.

anon342355
Post 26

My name is Layla. I live in the UK. I had my first baby beginning to end in three and a half hours. The nurses kept me on my back. Needless to say, I had loads of gas and air for that (ouch). All they were bothered about was trying to monitor the baby's heartbeat with the long probes. They went through eight of them because they wouldn't stick to her head, (she had loads of hair). She weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces.

My second birth was on my own in the (disappointingly lukewarm) bath, with my husband on telephone to the ambulance crew. He was also vacuuming the house for when the midwife would visit. When the baby was born, he weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces. The whole of my labour consisted of eight contractions and two pushes, with no stitches needed, no abrasions, and the total labour length was 18 minutes. I have had good, fast labour and little pain with it, so if anyone comments on your labour being easy just because it was quick, just tell them about mine and they will have a real reason to be jealous.

Love and respect to you other moms whose labour wasn't as good as mine, and hope for expectant moms that it will be as easy for you.

My third baby is due in December 2013 so wish me luck. I have been told I will be kept in hospital beginning in early November to make sure I give birth in a hospital rather than wherever I am at the time.

anon316286
Post 25

This is really scary. I had a pretty fast first labor with my first. He was five hours. My second was an hour and that was much longer than it needed to be. I was fighting the urge to push to make it to the hospital. They didn't believe me when I said she was coming out. They still made me change, get weighed, take my temperature and all that. Then they checked me and said "Go get the doctor!" They then moved me and I just couldn't hold her in anymore. With the first time, I didn't fight the urge to push, she came down just enough to break my water and it was on! Five pushes later, she was out. Thank God she was OK. My little 10 pound baby. I barely tore at all. I tore terribly with my son who was 7 pounds. So I got lucky there. She did have fluid in her lungs and would start choking in the middle of the night, which was terrifying.

When I asked my doctor about it, he said she didn't come through the canal slow enough to squeeze all the fluid out of her lungs. My lady area felt pretty bruised for quite a while. Luckily, neither problem caused any long term problems.

I am now pregnant with my third and was told I need to consider induction to make sure I have a controlled labor in a safe environment. However, I have no desire to be induced. I will definitely have to discuss all of this with my doctor when the time comes. It's either induction, or we are staying in a hotel across the street when we get closer.

anon314049
Post 24

Great article! My first was six hours of labor and my second an hour and 45 minutes. I loved my six hour labor, and now I am pregnant with my third child. Everyone always tells me how lucky I am to have babies fast, but the pain was excruciating with my second and I have a high pain tolerance.

Now the anxiety of having my third is really setting in, my doctor wants to induce me and while it's not ideal, I think it's a good idea (we are 35 minutes away from the closest hospital) but I am so worried I will have a baby before I am induced, especially since my son was born at 36 weeks.

Everyone's labors are different, though. My mom had precipitous labor also, and she said she had very little pain.

anon304061
Post 23

I was glad to read this article. My first birth was three and a half /2 hours, and the second two hours and I am tired of people saying that since it was short it was easy. It wasn't; it was excruciating from the first pain.

They broke my water both times in the hospital and ignored me throughout my first birth because they told my husband that since it was my first birth, I would be there for 17 hours. In retrospect, I wished I had a midwife in the hospital with me to speak up for my needs.

I opted for natural childbirth and was going to ask for something because I did not know I was so close to delivering; I knew I could not take an increase in pain but luckily, that was the worst of it.

Because of my fast first labor, they suggested inducement for the second which I declined. I was two blocks away from the hospital and since I was ridiculously good in preparing for my births (I think my kids are made of broccoli, caffeine and sugar free), I did not want any intervention with drugs for my birth.

Thanks for shedding light on the intensity of quick births. My husband said at the time he thought I was sleeping, but the reality is that I didn't want to move, talk or lose my sanity. I closed my eyes and as I joke, tried not to go towards the light! Kudos to all moms. Whatever the time spent in labor, it's not called “labor” for nothing. Good news is though, once it was over, I felt like I did normally. Perfect. I had energy and was thrilled and it felt like I feel at this moment. Great.

So thanks once again for clarifying the work that has to be done in a short amount of time. I see it as it is in physics: more power is needed to get a job done in a quick amount of time.

anon282886
Post 22

I've had two very fast labors. My first was an hour and 45 mins from first contraction to birth of baby. My second was 45 mins from first contraction to birth of the baby. I had no excessive bleeding, no tearing. My labors weren't exceptionally painful. In fact, they were quite manageable. I'm pregnant with my third now, and I am planning a home birth because of my short super easy labors.

anon267649
Post 21

I was almost 40 when I delivered my daughter. I was only at the hospital about an hour and twenty minutes when I had her. People hear that my labor was short and have actually said to me "you haven't experienced real childbirth"! Just because it didn't last for days doesn't mean it wasn't extremely painful or real! I have a beautiful little girl who is living proof of it!

anon247614
Post 20

I only found out today that a fast labour is known as precipitous. I had my son at 19 and my labour was 36 minutes from the first contraction to him coming out. He was 10 pounds and I can only describe the agony I was in. From the first contraction, it was non stop and very scary, especially as I had been told that I would be lucky if my labour was six hours. You expect to be in labour for a long time, so when you do have a short delivery, your body really isn't prepared.

I was torn back and front and was being stitched up for about two and a half hours, not to mention the permanent damage. It didn't stop me, though. I had my baby girl three months ago and was in labour for about 55 minutes. She was 8 pounds 10 ounces and it was the same scenario. I had to have stitches again. But I can't even count on my hands the number of times people have told me how lucky I was. They don't quite understand how intense and overwhelming it all is. I'm lucky to have one of each and no more, thank you.

anon202802
Post 19

I had a precipitous birth with my second child and it was a very difficult experience. When my first child was born, it was a happy, natural, surreal experience that I truly cherish. Although he came fast as well, I worked half a day and went straight to the hospital then had him before dinner, but she was a much harder birth.

Because my body went from 0-10+ cm in matter of a few minutes it was extremely painful and I ended up having a pulled groin after delivery. I had to use a walker to get around (and she was only eight pounds, not huge).

I still haven't been able to bring myself to document her birth in her baby book since it was such a bad experience for me. For weeks after her birth I had a hard time talking it (or even hearing my husband tell people about it). I am not saying this to scare people, on a contrary, you need to be prepared and also understand that you will recover afterward.

I am very blessed that I had no depression or baby blues after delivery, and bonded with my daughter immediately. Even though my first delivery was fast as well I was not prepared for this, trust yourself and listen to your body.

anon200538
Post 17

Why would anyone say that a person's personal experience is a lie? So strange. My son was born in an hour and twenty minutes. That was bad but the worst part was the fourth degree tear and the hemorraging that came from such a fast labour. That is indeed what women would frequently die in childbirth from when home births were the norm. I am so relived that I didn't attempt a home birth.

anon189315
Post 16

@anon67725: I'm a pretty "crunchy" mama and I believe everything you said to be lies. Do you believe those religious freaks who hit you on the head and fixed your permanently paralyzed body too? You have no right to be on a forum full of mothers who are sharing their beautiful stories - painful or not. Every story is valid because it is what happened to them. It wasn't you. You weren't there. Get over yourself!

anon169524
Post 15

I had a precipitous labour. Waters broke and the hospital told me to take a paracetamol and have a bath. Luckily, although this was my first child, I could tell that something was not right. I went to the hospital, against the doctors advice and was told to go home as I was only 2cm dilated. I asked to use the bathroom and less than 10 minutes later I needed to push. Luckily I was still in the hospital. My beautiful daughter was born less then an hour later.

I am glad I listened to my own instincts and not to the 'professionals'. And I am extremely proud of myself and my baby girl!

anon158542
Post 14

My daughter was 37 wks pregnant with her first baby. her waters broke and she went to the hospital. they checked and said that they were not sure if her waters had gone. they said they would fill up again so go home and wait for this to happen.

It didn't happen but the next day she started to get pains in her back. she described it as wind pains. this was round about lunch time so we phoned the hospital and they said she could go in or if she could wait a while then wait. About 8.30 p.m., we went off to the hospital where she did a water sample and was told she had a water infection, and she was put on a monitor to check baby. She was also examined and told she definitely wasn't in labour as it was very unusual that she should go into labour with her first baby at 37 weeks.

She was given some antibiotics and co codamol which she took two of and sent home. She got home, and 20 minutes later, our little Harry James was born weighing 5lb 2oz., delivered by his daddy. The ambulance came and took them both to hospital.

I am pleased to say they are both doing well. My daughter said the worst thing of it all is when everyone went from the hospital, she broke down, thinking what if something had gone wrong?

anon156388
Post 13

I am in a similar predicament. My first was 6.5 hrs, second was 39 minutes from first contraction to delivered. Both were wonderful labors with no tearing. One with an epi that took for two hours in the middle and the second with nothing. The second contractions were immediately on top of each other. We made the hospital four minutes before he came. Even got to deliver in my dress. It was a bit emotional due to the speed, stress and the after thought of what could have happened.

Now thinking of number three, the doctor has said we should induce, as do a few friends who ended up inducing with their third. I just feel if I stay at my parents, close to the hospital and able to watch one and two, I would have about 20 minutes so I could make it. I mean 20 minutes and done – not a bad choice if safe.

I wonder if you have them induce you but don't break your water, you could go home if the induction wasn't taking. That way you wouldn't have the risk of a C-section or long labor. Then try again a few days later. That is what I may do. Hard decision. Best of luck to you.

anon146951
Post 12

My first child was a precipitous labor. My water broke and my son was born in one hour 45 minutes. Almost didn't make it to hospital. We were stuck in traffic and the police had to call an ambulance.

I am pregnant with #2 and my OB wants me to be induced at 39 weeks. I really want to have a natural birth but at the same time I don't want to give birth at work or on the way. Any advice?

anon135874
Post 11

@ anon67725: Why would you discredit another woman's birth experience? Every birth for every woman is different. My first birth, six hours, was bearable, but my second, three hours, was very painfully intense. My placenta had to be manually removed, because it did not want to eject by itself. lease respect that every woman's experience is different, Hynobirth or not.

anon125028
Post 10

I had a very fast labour, and it was terrifying.

I am a normal sized healthy active 28 year old. (126lbs before pregnancy 5ft 6")

I had flashbacks and nightmares for months. I wouldn't have sex with my husband for six months because I was so terrified I could get pregnant.

I am pregnant now and am very concerned that I will have this again.

First off my son was my first baby, and was 8.6 but had a gigantic head. What the other mothers experienced was not my experience.

I had no break between contractions. Which not only is awful and painful but is so tiring and also its very very hard to breath.

It was like being suffocated and ripped apart at the same time.

I want to punch people when they say " oh your so lucky" blah blah.

Also tore, lost a lot of blood, and have suffered lasting bladder damage. I couldn't tell when I needed to pee until six months later and still, I can't hold my urine if I sneeze, cough, laugh or move certain ways. Yep, 28 years old and I wet my pants.

Also want to punch the "helpful" people that suggest just doing kegels. Like I never thought of that. Like I prefer to wet my pants like a child.

You people who had fast, "easy" labours should thank your lucky stars but stop discrediting other mothers who, unlike you, did not have such a rosy journey.

I love my son but I still am bothered by his arrival and now when I think of this new baby that's due in a month, I cry.

People still say oh your so lucky, and your next labour will be faster. Like that's great. Maybe this time I could suffer more bleeding, tears, agony etc. Maybe if I'm lucky I will just explode and dribble awards? Won't that be great. But it will be fast! Oh I'll be so lucky.

anon123477
Post 9

I am glad I didn't read this before my first: 4.5 hours from start to finish. When my mother had me I came in 1.75 hours. I am now ready for my second and I am going for two hours of a safe, happy delivery.

I use hypnobirthing and just talking to the baby-who is your partner in all this. I think my baby did all the work last time!

anon123251
Post 8

I've been through precipitous labor three times. It's the best. Be happy if you're lucky enough to get it. The last was so fast, I delivered myself, my midwife didn't make it in time, lol! The above article is a little scary, because for the majority of people, it's a great thing.

anon103126
Post 7

I've had three babies, all quickly. The first in just over four hours, but less than 50 minutes at the hospital.

The second happened to be at the hospital only because I was due to be induced the next day. He came in under 50 minutes from the moment my water broke. The third was induced to ensure we were at the hospital. She was a bit slower because the labor wouldn't progress. I got an epi with her, but it was given so late that it only worked on the left side. Once they broke my water, she was out in less than 30 minutes.

While these experiences were intense, they were all over before I knew it. Meditation and focus did a lot to reduce the pain and I found that because they came so fast I needed to get myself to a happy place much faster than I thought I would.

We are now expecting number four. I am fully prepared for another very, very short labor. Given the choice, I would obviously do this again, and having gone through two without epi and one with induction and epi, I would rather just let nature take its course this time. I will, however, be practicing my meditation techniques well in advance and praying that this one will make it to the hospital like the other three did.

anon88396
Post 6

I'm pregnant with #4. My first was nine hours, beginning to end, the second was about five hours and my third was one and a half hours from 5cm-done.

I found with my third (most recent) that my contractions were very tolerable. I didn't have any drugs with any of my kids, and found this one the easiest labor/deliveries Once we got to the hospital and were done, we realized that if we didn't have to be back at the hospital at a certain time (we were induced) to be checked, my daughter would have been born at home, in the car, on the side of the road, and not at the hospital because I sure didn't feel like things were progressing all that great.

I didn't even know there was a medical term for having a labor that short until the other day when I went for a mat check on #4. I guess I know this time to not be so stubborn and go in even if the pain isn't that bad.

anon86474
Post 5

Three of my four children were precipitous births. I tried to get ip with two of them but it didn't take because they were so far down birth canal already. I went into shock and needed oxygen. It was like getting hit by a mack truck. My first was a 17 hour labor/delivery and I would do that again any day over the other three.

anon67725
Post 4

Everything you read above is lies. I had an unassisted home birth that was a total of 2 and 1/2 hours. I used gentlebirth/hypnobirth. Your fear of birth and labor is what makes it so hard for you. Look up hypnobirthing and you will pleasantly surprised at how you deal with your next labor.

anon60095
Post 3

I'm due in two weeks and am scared I won't make it to the hospital in time. My first was around 2 1/2 hours, which left no time for pain intervention, just laughing gas. My mommy friends also said to me how jealous they were. But my first labour left me quite emotionally shocked and I also hemorrhaged and tore. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

anon39967
Post 2

It was nice to read this article, because I had a very fast labour -- 45 minutes from beginning to end, and everyone seemed jealous! (My first child came in 3 hours. I thought that was fast at the time). I did find it frightening and, of course, very painful, also stressful, because we barely made it to hospital in time. I'd like another child, but worry about a repeat experience. I'm wondering what to do? A home birth?

tash05
Post 1

Hi, I am 26 weeks with my 4th child. My first was a 1o hour forceps birth with epi, second an emergency c section after a precipitous labour and no pain relief, third was another precipitous labour with epi, but extremely painful with no rest between contractions.

I have a severe disc problem now in my back and was also diagnosed with a heart murmur recently and I am terrified to get an epidural, but I know I cannot have another precipitous labour with no pain relief, it is too horrendous. So I am considering another section under GA.

Anyone have any good advice for me?? Thanks.

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