Express delivery: Why a quick birth isn’t always a good birth

Article: As commissioned by The Daily Mail’s Femail magazine

Photos: Copyright Jason Buckner Photography, 2012

Copyright Jason Buckner Photography

The easy option? Not always, says mum of two, Maddie Sinclair, who just experienced her second extremely rapid baby delivery.

At exactly 10 minutes past midnight on my due date, I felt my first contraction. Unlike most women, who would then put on a whale call CD, light an aromatherapy candle and run themselves a bath, my husband, Doug, and I were out the door and in the car on our way to hospital in under ten minutes flat.

From the offset my contractions were occurring every two to three minutes, lasting for well over a minute, and were screamingly painful.

At 1am the midwife declared me five centimetres dilated and half an hour later I was fully dilated and started pushing. At 1.42am, after the most intense and agonising 1 hour and 32 minutes of my life, our beautiful daughter, Freya Leilani Sinclair, was born.

Although still a complete panic from start to finish, this time I at least knew what to expect. In the lead up, my birth visualisations had not been unrealistic calm blue ocean scenarios, but all involved me panting like a hyperventilating Jack Russell in the back of a speeding Audi Estate, trying not to have the baby until we reached the hospital precincts.

I certainly didn’t go into my first birth with my eyes open to the same extent. Like most first time mothers-to-be, for months I’d been planning for what I expected would be a long labour. I’d spent the days before my waters broke compiling a 24-hour iPod birthing playlist to help get me through labour in a calm, confident and ultimately adrenaline pumping manner.

What I hadn’t anticipated was for Doug to be moving the car from the ambulance bay outside when, alone inside the labour ward, I felt the sudden urge to push. Doug raced back in and about three contractions later, our gorgeous son, Callum Spencer Sinclair, was born – exactly 1 hour and 36 minutes after I woke at home for a normal late-night pregnancy toilet break.

What I now know is that I am one of a number of women who give birth to their children extremely quickly.

‘The medical term for a quick birth is a “precipitate labour”,’ explains Birth Stories Specialist Midwife, Jane Canning, from Brighton and Sussex University Hospital Trust.

‘A true precipitate labour is literally two or three contractions, but people generally use the term to describe a birth of under three hours from first contraction to arrival of the baby,’ she says.

According to NHS NICE statistics, approximately one in every 50 births will occur in under three hours. No one knows for sure why some women give birth so quickly. It is more likely to occur in women who have already had one or more babies, although it can still happen during a first birth, often if your own mother has had a similar experience.

Precipitate labours at their most extreme are called Born Before Arrivals (BBAs), where a baby is born either at home without midwife support or in a car or ambulance on-route to the hospital. According to UK pregnancy and parenting website, BabyCentre, about one in every 200 babies arrive this way.

Jane Parkes, from Reading, delivered her second baby, a son, Myles, 18 years after she had her daughter Holly as a BBA in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital.

‘I had Holly in around an hour from my waters breaking, so was told by the paramedics that my second child might be just as fast. But I thought the huge gap between my pregnancies might cancel this out,’ says the 43 year old.

Nonetheless, she decided it was safer to plan a home birth the second time around, just in case.

‘Ten days before my due date, my waters broke at 4.30pm, so we rang the hospital to arrange for a midwife to be sent.’

Jane and her partner, Stuart, lay towels and sheets over the lounge floor in preparation.

‘The midwife called at 5pm but said she was still over 20 minutes away. We then became really anxious, as I could feel the baby’s arrival was imminent.’

Jane urged Stuart to ring the midwife back immediately.

‘During the phone call I shouted to Stuart “he’s coming”, gave one big push and Myles’ head popped out. I reached down and felt it with my hands.’

Stuart then rang for an ambulance.

‘Stuart was on the phone to the paramedics, I waited for the next contraction to push again, and Myles was born at 5.20pm after only two pushes in total. When the ambulance men arrived, Stuart still had pirate make-up on from a party the night before, so we all had a laugh about that once we were over the initial shock of the situation.’

Midwife Jane Canning explains that the stress of such a panicked scenario can slow down the body’s natural release of endorphins and hormones, which help to manage the pain.

‘When your body is performing a task in under three hours that should normally take at least 12, it puts a lot of added pressure on the body, which hasn’t had much time to properly prepare itself, so the pain is likely to be more intense,’ says Ms Canning.

While a quick labour may sound easy to mentally prepare for, it’s not such a doddle in reality. In extreme circumstances, the traumatic circumstances can leave women feeling emotionally numb and unable to bond with their baby immediately. Others speak of feeling embarrassed, frightened and both physically and emotionally shocked.

‘I didn’t have time to think. I just had to act and go with the speed of it all, with only a TENS machine as pain relief’ says Jane Parkes.

A study by the European Journal of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, has found that precipitate labour is associated with higher rates of maternal complications, such as cervical and perineal tears, post-partum haemorrhage, retained placenta and prolonged hospitalisation.

My own quick labour with Callum resulted in a retained placenta. After a natural birth, I had to have a spinal block and go into theatre alone to have the afterbirth removed, which I found really traumatic.

Although more risky for mothers, most babies born quickly seem to suffer no negative effects. Probably the greatest risk is the baby dropping to the ground and sustaining a head injury.

‘Myles literally flew out but was luckily caught by his dad before he hit the floor. We were so relieved to know that he was OK,’ says Jane Parkes.

For all first time mums, it’s worth checking with your own mother to see if they had a quick labour.

Knowing this is particularly relevant to Jane’s daughter, Holly, who is due to give birth in five months.

‘It will be interesting to see if she has the same quick birthing style as me,’ says Jane.

‘Hopefully she’ll be more prepared for a speedy delivery than I was with her’.

If you think you may be a likely candidate for a quick birth, discuss it with your midwife so you can put some plans into place in case it happens.

For me, knowing in advance that for Freya’s birth I would have to kick straight into DEFCON 1 alert mode ironically made me feel as if I had some strange sort of control over the situation. I knew that the intense pain would be over fairly quickly, and that spurred me on through the panic. I certainly knew not to bother preparing an iPod playlist. This time, my mix tape included just one motivational song – ‘Push It’ by Salt-N-Pepa.


5 thoughts on “Express delivery: Why a quick birth isn’t always a good birth

  1. rHi there. My first sons labour was 6 hours, it was long and painful.
    My second was too quick, way too quick. It was scary and nasty and traumatic. I was in physical and mental shock. I was fine at 3pm, at 3.30 i felt ill then angry, very unexplained anger. Then the pain, and i realised its labour. I called hospitals, friends, no one came. I was told to “walk to the bus stop” i tried to explain was impossible. Still no midwife or doctors. I was home alone. I had no choice, i went door knocking. Luckily a neighbour (who id never met) helped me. She had a daughter and phoned her mum to babysit her. By the time her mum arrived i was very much in final labour, my neighbour drove me to hospital with me screaming. I couldn’t sit in the car. She was seriously kind, after her helping me into the hospital she disappeared quietly. Minutes later i was holding my son. 17:07
    That’s 30 mins feeling unwell and an hour of my body going at superspeed. No pain relief, no medical help really, they left the room to “discuss” my situation, that i was having a total panic. So would they have been! At the point he showed up i was alone, screaming “come back. Im giving birth NOW”. Hardly a surprise I am terrified of having another child.

    • Wow – sounds terrifying Julie! It’s definitely not the walk in the park people make it out to be! Glad you made it through relatively untraumatised! You should make sure you talk to a ‘Birth Stories’ midwife if you’re thinking of having another one. They should offer you support and help you prepare. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Maddie xoxo

  2. I had a fast labor….I was having very mild contractions the day before, almost all day. They felt like strong braxton hicks, not really painful, which I was kinda used to because ai had a lot of BH since very early on. They were kinda crampy as the day progressed, and then 2am the following morning my water broke as I was calmly laboring at home. Called hubby and got to the hospital around 3am, was 4cm uppn arrival. 4:32am she was born! The nurse didn’t believe me that I had to push, she tried talking me into getting an epidural and when she checked and realized I was already fully dilated, she was surprised! Everyone I know tells me how lucky I am, and yes I feel blessed that I didn’t have a torturously long labor and delivery, however, it was no walk in the park. The pain was so extreme all I could think about was….well nothing really. Between contractions all I vould think was, god this hurts waaay more than expected, I don’t think I can last like this for possibly 12 more hours!!! I got two 2nd degree tears for my trouble and recovery was harsh because of it…..and I really don’t remember a lot of the birth and this makes me really sad. All I remember is the pain, next thing I know they’re taking her from me already and weighing her, stitching me and moving us to our room…the I remember touching her head before she came out, and that I am thankful for, but I can’t even recall the exact moment she came out and was handed to me :'( if I had been thinking straight I would have had hubby video tape it, but it happened too quickly, he barely made it back inside after parking before I started pushing….and although I had wanted a natural childbirth from the beginning, and I got what I wanted, it was very traumatic and left me in shock afterwards. I keep trying to explain this to family and friends that my body went from 4cm to 10cm in an hour and that is was veeerrry painful and traumatizing, but they all think I had it easy and am lucky. I feel almost cheated of that ceremonious labor and birth that most women get, where they remember every detail and can recount it perfectly….I honestly don’t even know how long I was pushing, just that it took roughly an hour after arrival to fully dilate and start pushing….and I’m scared of having more kids someday, what the labor will be like….

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story Ally. Yes, I totally understand how you feel. I was in total shock the first time… but the second was much more calm because I was prepared for it to be even faster (which it was). Maybe if you plan to have any more kids it might be worth considering a home birth – that way you don’t need to worry about getting to the hospital quickly and should take some of the stress out of it all. I was considering a home birth for my second, but had a few complications so they said I should plan to make it to the hospital somehow – I just left for hospital at the very first sign of a twinge and 1hr 32 minutes later I had a baby in my arms. Being pre-prepared certainly worked and I had a wonderful birth experience the second time round because of it – much more relaxed and I can remember more of it too. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Maddie xoxo

  3. I had my first in about 1 hr. My water broke at home. We made the drive to the hospital. When i arrived i was fully dilated. The only waiting i had to do was waiting on the dr to arrive.

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