Rapid Labor

With each pregnancy, labor and birth can be quite different. Some women follow the typical course of labor, while others may experience delays in labor or find it necessary to induce. Still, others experience rapid labor. Although some women see rapid labor as a wonderful benefit, there are some drawbacks to birthing your baby quickly.
Regardless of the kind of labor you experience, it can be expected to have a healthy birth.

Rapid Labor: Signs, Difficulties, and Management

Labor and birth of your baby consist of three stages:

  • Active labor
  • Birth of the baby
  • Delivery of the placenta

On average, these stages of labor last from 6-18 hours. Rapid labor, also called precipitous labor, is characterized by labor that can last as little as 3 hours and is typically less than 5 hours.
There are several factors that can impact your potential for rapid labor including:

  • A particularly efficient uterus which contracts with great strength
  • An extremely compliant birth canal
  • A history of prior rapid labor
  • Birth of a smaller than average baby

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The signs of rapid labor vary, but may include any of the following:

  • Sudden onset of intense, closely timed contractions with little opportunity for recovery between contractions.
  • An intense pain that feels like one continuous contraction allowing no time for recovery.
  • The sensation of pressure including an urge to push that comes on quickly and without warning. This can also be described as bearing down and feel similar to a bowel movement. Often times this symptom is not accompanied by contractions as your cervix dilates very quickly.

What are the difficulties of rapid labor?

The most obvious difficulty with Rapid Labor is emotional turmoil. Rapid Labor can make it extremely difficult to find coping strategies and can leave the expectant mother feeling out of control. Many women feel disappointment as they look forward to the birthing process and are surprised by rapid labor.
A very practical concern of rapid labor is also the location of the birth. Often, by the time the expectant mother realizes that she is indeed having rapid labor, there is a narrow window of opportunity to drive to the hospital. In this case, methods of pain medication listed in the birthing plan may or may not be available.
Rapid Labor can have a number of other potential difficulties for the mother or baby including:

For Mother:

  • Increased risk of tearing and laceration of the cervix and vagina
  • Hemorrhaging from the uterus or vagina
  • Shock following birth which increases recovery time
  • Delivery in an unsterilized environment such as the car or bathroom

For Baby:

  • Risk of infection from unsterilized delivery
  • Potential aspiration of amniotic fluid

How can you manage or cope during precipitous deliver?

Though you cannot control the speed at which your labor progresses, there are several steps that you can follow in order to take control of the situation in the event of rapid labor.
These include:

  • Call for help immediately by contacting your doctor, midwife or 911.
  • You can also have someone contact your doula if you are using one.
  • Stay in control by using breathing techniques and calming thoughts.
  • Have a partner with you at all times.
  • Remain in a clean, sterile place until help arrives.
  • Lay down either on your back or on your side.

Want to Know More?

Comprised of the following resources:
Harms, R. W. (2004). Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. New York: HarperResource.
Johnson, Robert. (1994). Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc.
Lesson 3: Precipitate and Emergency Delivery.” Brooksidepress.org. Medical Education Division, Web. 19 August. 2014.