Precipitous Labor 101

A while back, I wrote about my daughter’s birth.  In a nutshell, it was lightning fast and super chaotic.  I was at home on the couch when I felt my first contraction, and by the third or fourth one, they were 2 minutes apart (so almost on top of each other), and my pain level was just short of 10.  Even though I thought it couldn’t possibly be time, we left quickly for the hospital.  By the time we got there, I was fully dilated and ready to push.  I was so out of control by then that I have little recollection of what I said or did, but I know that I felt completely humiliated afterwards.  From first contraction to delivery, my labor lasted just under two and a half hours.

I have told this story a million times, and the reaction has always, always been the same.  A chuckle, a scoff, raised eyebrows, a wave of the hand as if to dismiss me.  Two and a half hours of labor?  That’s easy.  I’m lucky.  Then they tell me the lowlights of their birth story – 20 hours of labor, emergency C-section, hemorrhage… And I feel like a dope.  I shouldn’t complain.  I really shouldn’t!  My baby was healthy, and I didn’t have any complications aside from a few stitches and a bruised self-esteem.  But I had such a hard time wrapping my brain around the whole thing, and it made my transition into motherhood really difficult.  I had and still have so many questions about what happened and why.

This weekend I was randomly scrolling through some motherhood message boards when I saw a woman’s post that she is pregnant with her second and will be induced early due to her history of fast labor.  Um, say what??  I read down the thread and saw someone else refer to a fast labor as “precipitous labor.”  My first thought was – this is a thing??  With a name??  And it’s not unique to me??  I instantly had Google on the case.  Here’s what I learned:

-Precipitous labor seems to be defined as a labor lasting three hours or less from first contraction to delivery.

-The main characteristic of precipitous labor is the sudden onset of strong contractions with little to no break in between, as well as intense, unmanageable pain.  From the stories I have read, many women experience feelings of losing control during labor, as well as shock and embarrassment afterwards.   (Yes!  I’m normal!)

-Some sites say that risk factors include things like having a previous precipitous birth, having optimal pelvic positioning/size, and having a small or premature baby.  (Cocaine use is another risk factor that we’ll just gloss right over…)  Some other websites say that precipitous labors cannot be predicted.  So – good news, everyone, it can happen to you too!

-Complications associated with precipitous labor include perineal tearing (because your body has less time to stretch), maternal hemorrhage, and fetal distress.

Learning the little that I know now about this real-life thing called precipitous birth, I haven’t gotten many answers.  I’ll never know why this happened to me, and the question of whether it will happen again is to be determined.  The big takeaway from my little research project is a feeling of validation.  I had this experience, I’m not just crazy or a wimp or a whiner, and other people have been through this too.  My feelings of humiliation about my birth experience have eased a tad – my behavior seems more normal now given the circumstances – and I’m actually really thankful now that my labor and delivery weren’t worse.  While none of the resources I found look particularly scientific, I was excited to read about symptoms and stories just like mine.  Amazing how validating it can be to know that someone else has had the same experience as you!


A few of the websites I found:


A few other crazy precipitous birth stories:


A previous CTWM post with another precipitous birth story – I didn’t find this until I started googling for this post!

One thought on “Precipitous Labor 101

  1. I remember when I found out that my disabling cramps and extreme periods were a medical condition, and not just me complaining about “my cycle.” It was SO validating. It also allowed a fix, which was a nice bonus. It’s amazing how freeing validation can be.

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