While labor and delivery can last a very long time, some women have what is called precipitous labor. This is when the total time between the beginning of labor and birth is three hours or less. This is not that common, but under certain circumstances it can occur, and it has a unique set of problems that should be managed carefully.
Symptoms of precipitous labor may begin with true contractions that don’t seem to have intermissions. One contraction tends to directly follow another without a time interval. If you are at home, and your contractions are occurring quickly without breaks in between, you may be progressing in labor more quickly than most people. If you are some distance from a hospital, this form of contractions is an indication to call 911, because it is possible that you may deliver without medical help before you even get to the hospital.
Some women seem more predisposed than others toward precipitous labor. It may more readily occur in women with roomier pelvises, and it is more likely to occur in women who have had more than one previous child. A woman who has had precipitous labor with a past pregnancy is also at greater risk for having it again, and sometimes smaller babies who are in the ideal position simply come faster. One risk factor you can control is drug use: cocaine use during pregnancy can cause this type of labor and it goes without saying that illegal drug use during pregnancy is extremely dangerous. Other times, when women are being given pitocin to induce labor creates precipitous labor, though this is still rare.
While it might seem ideal to women who have had long labors to get through labor and delivery quickly, precipitous labor is not ideal for mother or child. Pain is intense and mothers may not have access to pain medications because of the rate at which labor is progressing. There is greater risk of tearing, uterine bleeding, hemorrhage, and low oxygen levels for mom and baby.
Precipitous labor can also result in fetal distress, and some children may have head injuries because they pass through the birth canal so quickly. In rare instances, this quick passage may result in pneumothorax, where a lung collapses. When possible this form of labor is best managed in a hospital setting where doctors are on hand to help treat a distressed infant, or a mother with complications.
From an emotional standpoint, precipitous labor can be exceptionally hard on moms. There is no way to appropriately describe the intense pain that laboring moms may have, and what makes it especially challenging is that there is little that can done to relieve pain. Usually any childbirth methods learned fail to comfort and many forms of pain relief are contraindicated. Moms may feel very disappointed in a rapid and frightening birth experience, and this could potentially cause the baby blues or contribute to postnatal depression.
Under certain circumstances, doctors will decide to do a cesarean section to end precipitous labor quickly. Not all doctors agree on this step. Many children are born healthy and well despite this fast labor, and a c-section may pose increase risk to both mother and child.