Pregnancy

What is Precipitous Labor?

Team Peanut6 months ago6 min read

If your baby is a serious eager beaver, you may experience precipitous labor—one of the more dramatic ways for your little one to make their entrance.

Woman in labor

Over in as quickly as two hours, precipitous labor (aka rapid labor) is complex. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly efficient way to get your baby from the inside of your belly into the outside world. On the other, it can be a serious shock to the system for both you and your little peanut.

Here’s the lowdown on precipitous labor: how to spot it, what causes it, and what risks it may involve.

Table of Contents 📝

  • What is precipitous labor?
  • What are the signs of precipitous labor?
  • What causes precipitous labor?
  • What are the risks involved in precipitous delivery?

What is precipitous labor?

First things first, a precipitous labor definition:

Precipitous labor is labor that lasts less than three hours, from the time contractions start, to the time of delivery.

So yes, precipitous labor is nothing if not efficient. The average active labor time is somewhere between four and eight hours—precipitous labor can be over in less than half that time. (Prolonged or slow labor is reported to last up to 75 days—so there’s that too.)

Next question: is precipitous labor not then the dream? From your pregnant pals to your grandma, labor tales that tell of eternal pushing and pain can be more than a little off-putting when it comes to embarking on the journey yourself. Surely getting the job done quickly is the preferable choice?

Well, like most things mamahood, it’s a little more complex than that and there are a few challenges involved.

So, how do you know if it’s happening to you—and what should you do about it if it does?

What are the signs of precipitous labor?

You’ve mapped out your birth preferences. Your healthcare provider is in the loop. You imagine the chilled vibes of the room as you welcome your little human into the world.

And then reality steps in: suddenly you seem to be giving birth in the elevator as you hope to goodness you at least make it to the lobby. But what about the plan?!

Labor is just so unpredictable.

To understand how confusing it can all get, let’s first chat about the stages of labor:

  • Early labor, where you might feel some mild contractions. Your cervix gets to the job of dilating in prep for your little one to pass through.
  • Active labor, where things really get going. This is the part where the baby makes their way through the birth canal and out the other side. This is the part that involves some serious pushing.
  • Birthing the placenta. Once your baby is out, there’s one final lap you have to make. The placenta that has kept your baby nourished and healthy needs to make its way out as well.

So is precipitous labor more painful? It’s certainly more intense, particularly because you don’t get time to recover between contractions. The plus part? It’s over in no time.

When it comes to precipitous labor, you may experience some or all of the following as active labor kicks into gear:

  • High-speed contractions. If your contractions speed up suddenly without warning, you may have a precipitous birth on your hands.
  • Fierce contractions. Not only do the contractions come fast, but they also come hard.
  • Pressure to push. The urge to push is intense.
  • You can’t catch a break. Contractions seem to come thick and fast with little recovery process.

If you experience any of these symptoms, get to your birthing spot ASAP, if that’s an option. If it’s not, try to find the most sanitary spot in the vicinity. Get in touch with your healthcare provider.

And through all this, if it’s possible, try to make sure that someone is with you.

What causes precipitous labor?

So how does precipitous birth even happen?

While it’s hard to predict a precipitous birth, certain factors seem to put new mamas in the rapid firing line:

  • A previous precipitous birth. If you’ve had one, you may have more than one.
  • Hypertension disorders. As this study from 2015 suggests, precipitous labor is associated with high blood pressure disorders.
  • A tiny baby. Which is classified as less than 5.5lbs. Your sneaky little one may just want to use their size to slip through as quickly as possible.
  • Having undergone fertility treatments.
  • Younger mamas might be more likely to experience a precipitous birth.
  • Blind luck. Sometimes it just happens. Call it a passionate birth.

And does precipitous labor run in families? While you may hear this whispered in corridors, there’s no conclusive proof that it does.

What are the risks involved in precipitous delivery?

So what happens if a baby is born too quickly?

Firstly, know that baby is likely to be a-OK even if you go into precipitous labor. Chances are good that, although you may undergo a pretty intense experience, all will pass without issue.

There are however particular risks associated with precipitous delivery that are worth taking note of ahead of time.

As this study found, “precipitate labor is associated with higher maternal complications”. Here they are:

  • Hemorrhaging (crazy, heavy bleeding) from your vagina or uterus
  • Tearing of your vaginal area or cervix
  • Increased recovery time after labor because of the shock to your system

There is also a chance that your baby may suffer a head injury because they had to move through the birth canal so quickly.

Another potential issue? Something called Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. When it comes to precipitous labor, your baby’s risk of inhaling amniotic fluid and meconium (your baby’s first, dark-green poop) is increased. This can cause health issues that may require treatment.

Also, because a precipitous birth may happen anywhere (elevators, cabs, driveways) there’s an increased risk of infection.

Beyond this, the intensity of the experience can be traumatic. It may feel like control over the birth has been snatched from you.

Do what you need to do to process. Reach out to other mamas on Peanut, chat to a counselor, journal, scream, paint. You don’t have to just go on, business as usual.

More from The 411:
What is Precipitous Labor?
How to Induce Labor (Yourself)