Coping with a fast labour

Midwife Anne Richley explains what to do if your baby has a super-speedy birth - before you can make it to hospital.

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You’ve probably heard stories about mums giving birth unexpectedly in their bathroom or in the hospital car park – their babies coming before they have time to get anywhere near the delivery room.

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Although it’s unusual, (you’ll no doubt hear a lot more stories about long labours), it’s best for you and your birth partner to be prepared and armed with the right info, just in case your little one decides he’s going to make a fast and unexpected arrival.

How long is labour likely to last?

It’s the one question every mum in labour wants to know. However, no one can predict how long a labour will last. Research does show that the average first-baby labour lasts around 12 hours, while further babies are often quicker. But 2% of women experience a precipitate labour’ – where labour is extremely rapid and lasts less than two hours from first contraction twinge to giving birth.

Why a fast labour might happen to you

Nobody really knows what causes super-speedy births, but they’re more common among women who’ve already given birth at least once. If you’ve already given birth, your cervix has been stretched, so the uterus may simply know what it’s doing and work a bit too efficiently!

Some women are convinced that their labour was a similar length to their mums’, so it may help to talk to your mum about her experiences.

What to do if labour goes very fast

If labour starts and there’s any doubt whether you’ll make it to hospital in time, don’t even try.

Call your labour ward, and they’ll send the on-call midwife to you, or an ambulance. This may not be ideal but it’s much, much safer than giving birth on the back seat of the car, with your terrified birth partner at the wheel!

How to give birth safely

If you feel the urge to bear down, or your baby’s head is crowning:

  • Get your bottom close to the floor. Standing when unattended risks your baby dropping and breaking the cord. So sit, kneel or lie down.
  • If your baby is coming really quickly, there’s nothing you can do to stop him. Try to ‘pant’ through the urges to push, so you can control the speed at which he makes his arrival.
  • Once your baby’s head is out, his body should be born with the next contraction. Wait for the contraction, though, don’t let anyone pull the baby’s head, allow your body to ‘birth’ your baby.
  • You or your partner should try to gently support your baby as he’s born, so he doesn’t drop on to the floor.
  • As soon as your baby’s out, dry him with a towel, then put him on your chest for skin-to-skin contact. Cover him with a dry towel to keep him warm.
  • If your baby appears shocked and is a bit floppy, rub him vigorously with a towel to stimulate the flow of oxygen.

Mums’ stories

“I gave birth while my partner was on the phone”

“My partner, Gareth, and I had planned a home birth, so when the contractions started to feel painful I got in the bath and he called our midwife. He was on the phone when I got an overwhelming urge to push, and when he walked back into the room I was clutching Ethan to my chest. I don’t know who was the most shocked!”

Katie, 26, mum to Ethan, 5 weeks

“My partner was taught how to deliver our baby”

“My second child, Beatrice, was born in 38 minutes, so I was worried that I wouldn’t get to hospital with my third. Our midwives even told my partner how to deliver!

“George, thankfully, arrived at hospital, but only because I was there being monitored. The midwife went to get my notes and came back to find me in full labour – I gave birth in the assessment unit!”

Pippa, 31, mum to Henry, 3, Beatrice, 2 and George, 10 months

“I woke up and felt the baby coming”

 “I woke up in the night feeling like I’d eaten something dodgy, and suddenly I could feel the baby coming. I got down on the bathroom floor, shouting for my partner, Rob. He called an ambulance, but as he was giving our address, Emily was born. The paramedic told me his paperwork took longer than my labour!”

Julie, 32, mum to Josh, 3, and Emily, 4 months

“My labour was over before I could do anything”

“My labour lasted an hour. I’d planned on listening to music, lighting candles and having my mum film the birth, but it all happened so quickly. Luckily my mum was staying with me, but I kept thinking about how awful it would have been if I’d been on my own.”

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Hetal, 19, mum to Priti, 8 weeks 

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