Some women go straight from a mild prelabour into full-blown labour. Some labours last only half an hour. While this might seem like an attractive option after the 9 - 12 hours which is more common, it's not always easy! Some women find the experience overwhelming, like a rollercoaster ride, out of control and frightening. It might seem very painful if she has not had the long, progressive warm-up of a steady labour.
When a woman has had a fast, or 'precipitate', labour before, she's often encouraged to consider homebirth as an alternative to rushing into hospital and possibly giving birth en route. An alternative is to have an induction in hospital before you go into spontaneous labour, but of course induction carries increased risks of foetal distress and of complications for the mother.
Below you will find birth stories involving fast labours, and some suggestions for what to do if your labour seems to be progressing very quickly, and what to do if you find yourself having a 'BBA' - a baby 'Born Before Arrival' of the midwife. Most fast labours are straightforward, but for those who would like to be more prepared in case of an emergency, there is a separate section on complications.
Call for help - try to get near a phone in case you do need to try another call for help afterwards. Make sure your door is on the latch so "help" can get in without breaking it down, if you're unable to move!
Choose whatever position feels right to you, thinking about whether there is something soft for the baby to land on if you can't catch her. Lying or sitting back gives the baby a gentle landing, but all-fours, kneeling upright or lying on your side will give the baby more room for a safe birth. If you're worried about the speed of the birth then going into knee-chest position may slow things down or give you some more control. Knee-Chest position means you go on your hands and knees, then lower your head and chest down to the floor, and stick your bum in the air.
Let your baby's head be born gently - if you can breathe calmly and give your perineum time to stretch, you are less likely to tear than if you just push for all you are worth.
After the birth, just keep you and the baby warm - hold baby next to your skin and wrap both of you in something warm. You don't need to touch the cord, or do anything to it. You do not need to tie or cut the cord; there is no hurry. Don't pull on the cord.
What if there is a complication, eg the baby's shoulders get stuck, the baby doesn't breathe after birth, or you start to bleed? Please see the separate page on Emergency Measures.
Emma was taken by surprise when her second labour progressed a lot faster than her first.
Charlie Paris had a very impressive three and a half hour labour despite her first baby being persistently OP - he was even born face-up. Her second labour progressed rapidly from 1cm dilation to giving birth within an hour - with no midwife present.
Amanda Saini's third baby's birth was a remarkable, and triumphant, arrival. Her first was a hospital birth, with a difficult recovery from an episiotomy. Her second baby was breech and Amanda opted for a caesarean in preference to the vaginal breech delivery on offer in her local hospital. When expecting her third, she researched her options, and planned a homebirth. In the event, baby Connor did indeed have his gentle home waterbirth - and was caught by his dad, before the midwife arrived.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith was sure she had another five hours to go before her fourth baby arrived, but it was more like 10 minutes: "In hindsight it was obvious the birth was imminent but I just couldn't believe that it was, as fifteen minutes previously I wasn't even sure I was in labour!"
Athena, my own fifth baby, arrived after a dream of a labour in February 2007 - only an hour and a half after I got out of bed, and only about 20 minutes after the hard work started. After four previous labours which had been very steady and 6 - 9 hours long, I felt quite jealous as I compiled this page - little thinking that it would ever be relevant to me!
Jem planned homebirths for each of her four children. This is the story of her fourth baby, born at home after a fast labour. Jem only just got her knickers off in time!
Christy, from the USA, planned a 'freebirth' - a birth without health professionals, to be supported only by her husband, for her second baby. However, her labour progressed rapidly and she gave birth completely alone. Her baby had the cord tight around his neck and was slow to breathe after birth, but Christy dealt with situation wonderfully and baby and mother were left in great shape. And he was a whopper...
Georgina's second baby waited until 43 weeks and 4 days to put in an appearance, but when she did it was very quick - established labour of perhaps a couple of hours, and birth before the midwives arrived.
Emily went into hospital for a sweep where she was found to be 5cms dilated, had the sweep, went to Tesco's afterwards (!!!), her waters broke in the car on the way home, and baby arrived just an hour later!
Antonia's second baby, Beatrix, arrived after "a fast and furious labour of around 90 minutes, including a 55 minute second stage". Her third baby arrived after an established labour of about half an hour, and her birth story is eagerly awaited!
Sarah H moved quickly from prelabour, to an established labour of under two hours.
Flora B's second baby arrived after an established labour of just an hour or two; her midwives had left her beforehand, saying "Call us back if it actually starts to hurt!"
Helen O'Donnell had "an hour and half of early labour, two hours of first stage, a 2 minute second stage and a quick physiological third stage."
Steph Amor's third baby Rafferty arrived, Steph used her hypnobirthing training to help her manage an incredibly fast labour - 30 minutes from the first twinge - and her baby was born before the midwives arrived.
Amélie's second baby was born in water, at home, before the midwife arrived. Amélie's husband supported her brilliantly and caught Clémence.
Liz's second baby was born at home after a very efficient labour, with a first stage of just two hours.
Hannah has six children, of whom four were born at home and one was born minutes after transferring to hospital. After much research and careful thought, Hannah planned an unattended birth for Alfie and Francis. She called a midwife for the birth of Sylvia, but the baby arrived first.
Denise Tupman's third baby was caught by Dad before the midwives arrived! Now, you would think that the midwives would take her first twinges of labour seriously after this, but guess what happened when fourth baby Andy was on his way?
Clare Russell had her second baby, Jamie, at home, having considered transferring to hospital because of prolonged rupture of the membranes. Clare describes Jamie's entry to the world as "slow, but peaceful". Clare was anticipating another slow and steady labour with her third child, Bethany. Instead, she ended up with what must be the world record for going from 3cm to giving birth...
Oddny's second baby, Anton, was a surprise breech presentation. Fortunately, Oddny had booked with an independent midwife who was confident in attending breech birth, and Oddny managed to give birth to her 9lb baby after a labour of just two and a half hours. The overwhelming impression from this birth story is one of calm control, with Oddny and her supporters just doing what needed to be done. A wonderful example of a gentle and natural breech birth.
Clare's first baby was born in hospital, but she wanted a homebirth for her second. Good job too, as she would never have made it to the hospital in time! Clare clearly took it all in her stride, and says it was definitely one of the best experiences of her life.
Abigail Brundinhad her first baby, Adelaide, at home. A beautiful birth story - Abigail and her partner Dan spent most of the labour alone, until a sensitive and supportive midwife arrived for the last hour. Her second baby, Saul, rushed his way out in 2004 - less than three hours after Abigail's first twinges. Although it was a textbook 'ideal' labour, Abigail found the pace of the labour shocking...
Cate's third baby, Tabitha, was born at home, in water, after a tough second stage. She planned another homebirth for her fourth baby, Martha, but kept an open mind about transferring to a birth centre and considered how she would manage if her second stage was tough again. As it happened, she didn't have time to put any of her plans into action...
Jenni's first baby was born in hospital, and her second was an unplanned homebirth. She planned a homebirth for her third, and describes it as great, but fast - Theo arrived before the midwife. Jenni says: "I have never been on such a high after a birth - with the other two I was pretty much shellshocked - but the relief that it had all gone well and the fact that we'd done it on our own made it an almost perfect birth experience."
Home Birth Reference Page