What is a precipitous birth?

Our midwife explains what happens if your baby arrives by express delivery.

Written by midwife Kate

Hoping for a quick labour is common for many mums-to-be, but quicker isn’t always better.

Precipitate labour is when a labour is very quick and short, and the baby is born less than 3 hours after the start of contractions.

Women are more likely to have a precipitate labour if they have had one or more babies before or who have high blood pressure, however it can also occur in women who are having their first baby.

Whilst many pregnant women often hope for a quick labour, it can also be quite distressing and some women can feel a sense of being out of control of what is happening. If a woman is experiencing a precipitate labour, it is usual to suddenly feel strong and powerful contractions straight away without the build-up of the irregular tightenings first. It often comes with little warning or time to get used to what is happening.

If a labour is happening very quickly there is also a slightly higher chance of bleeding heavier after the baby has been born, having perineal tears or the placenta being stuck inside your womb. Your midwife will monitor you closely during the labour and after your baby has been born in case this happens.

For many women who have experienced a precipitate labour, they often find it useful to talk to a health professional about their birth experience. It can be quite overwhelming and difficult to process as everything happened so quickly.

We always encourage women and their partners to access services that offer a chance to be able to talk about their birth, either via the maternity unit or with your midwife or health visitor. If you are currently pregnant and worried about having a precipitate labour then it can help to plan your route to hospital and be prepared with your hospital baby towards the end of pregnancy to take away any stress about getting to the maternity unit quickly.

It is important to remember that for many women who have a fast labour it is without complication.

From FAQs to information about what happens during labour, you can discover all our Labour & Birth information here.