Everything You Need to Know About Precipitous Labor

In the realm of birth stories, we occasionally hear tales where mothers undergo ‘Precipitous Labor,’ marked by the rapid onset and progression of labor, resulting in delivery in unusual settings such as cabs or airplanes. Everything you need to know about precipitous labor revolves around this rare occurrence, accounting for just 3% of deliveries, where the baby ‘just comes so fast’ as mothers often exclaim.

While most births take several hours, some mothers and fathers endure labors that are “precipitous” and last barely a few hours. While rapid labor may sound appealing (less pain and fewer contractions, for example), it is associated with a number of potential dangers for both mother and child. Learn all about the signs, triggers, and potential outcomes of premature labor right here.

What is “Precipitous Labor”?

The position of the baby, the use of an epidural, and the mother’s level of experience all play a role in how long labor lasts. The earliest stages of labor often last anywhere from six hours for first-time mothers to a full day for veterans. When your cervix dilates and contractions become more intense, this phase of labor is called active labor and can last anywhere from four to eight hours.

Premature or accelerated labor rarely follows this pattern. “When labor lasts only two or three hours, this is called preterm labor,” explains Dr. Iffath Hoskins, M.D., a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine at NYU Langone Health. The cervix of a woman experiencing precipitous labor quickly progresses from a minimal dilation (say, two or three centimeters) to a completely dilated state.

What Causes Precipitous Labor?

Premature labor has no established risk factors. However, according to David F. Colombo, M.D., medical director for obstetrics at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, “If a woman has had lots of children, they are at risk for delivering more quickly.” Those who have once experienced a premature birth are also more likely to have another one.

While the exact cause of premature labor in some pregnancies remains unknown, research have linked various health issues to an increased risk of labor starting too early. The European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, for one, lists the following health issues as possible precipitous labor triggers:

  • Placental abruption.
  • Chronic hypertension.
  • Fertility treatments.
  • Intrauterine growth restriction.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Induction with prostaglandins.

Signs of Premature Labor

Premature labor is characterized by the rapid onset of labor pains. Multiple contractions may come quickly after one another. For some, the pressure or contraction is sudden and continual. Pain and the need to push are possible outcomes of the cervix dilatation process.

The intensity of regular contractions during childbirth increases gradually. Period cramps will be mild at first but will increase in intensity and duration with time. Constant and immediate pain, together with the need to bear down and push, characterize the contractions of precipitous labor.

Rapid Labor and Delivery Complications

Dr. Colombo notes that some people think having a baby quickly is wonderful. Faster labor and delivery is a popular option. They won’t have to spend as much time as normal in active labor, which is when most women experience the most discomfort and anguish. However, there are usually negative consequences associated with having birth too quickly.

Dr. Hoskins explains that a mother or father who gives birth quickly runs the risk of tearing her vagina or perineum. Bleeding can also occur in the uterus or vagina. The birth may not be fully sterile if doctors have to rush to “catch” the baby.

Injuries to the baby’s head or brain during the baby’s fast descent through the mother’s soft and bony tissues are a known concern. Because of the shift in pressure, the unborn child may experience cerebral bleeding and may aspirate amniotic fluid.

When the shoulder becomes entangled with the mother’s pelvic bones, a condition known as shoulder dystocia occurs. Also, some newborns suffer mild, temporary breathing problems after delivery, indicating a more challenging adjustment to life outside the womb. Rapid labor can induce mental difficulty in an unprepared mother or father in the form of shock, despair, or other states.

How to Reach the Medical Center

It’s concerning for the expecting mother and father to experience premature labor when they reside a long distance from the hospital. Another issue is that by the time they get to the hospital, they may be too far along in labor to receive pain relief from an epidural.

Dr. Colombo recommends consulting your healthcare physician about your expected date of delivery and your plans for giving birth if you reside a significant distance from the nearest hospital. Your doctor may recommend enrolling in birthing classes, arriving at the hospital earlier than usual, and getting ready for the possibility of home birth.

Dr. Colombo concurs that an early induction is not recommended. Some expectant mothers desire to be induced before 39 weeks to guarantee that they give birth in a medical facility, although doing so can be risky. Birth at full term reduces the likelihood that your child will experience complications with breathing or brain development.

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