As far as I'm concerned, a short labor is right up there with winning the lottery in terms of lucky life events. (And when I was actually in labor, I would absolutely have traded a bucketful of lottery winnings for a speedier birth.) While some women grit their teeth in the L&D ward for what seems like forever, others seem to skate right through the birthing process in a matter of hours. Interestingly, there really are six early signs you're going to have a short labor — also known as a rapid labor, which lasts less than five hours, according to American Pregnancy.
Like winning the lottery, however, you can't exactly count on a made-for-TV timed birth. In fact, only one to two percent of women have precipitious labors, or labors lasting less than three hours, according to Today's Parent. So very speedy labors are also rare.
"I really try to avoid ever telling a pregnant woman she will have a short labor," New York City based nurse-midwife Kara Manglani says in an email to Romper. "I prepare women for the possibility of being in labor for a very long time. This way if their labor is shorter they are happy, but they know to expect it to be long."
How long labor lasts depends a lot on circumstance, but for first-time moms, you can expect active labor alone to take an average of eight to 18 hours, noted Baby Centre. And that's not even counting early labor and the pushing phase. But even first-time moms may experience rapid labor. If you're wondering if this could happen to you, here are some signs that suggest you may not be laboring for too long.
1. It's Not Your First Baby
"The longest labors tend to be the first time moms. Once you've been through a vaginal birth you are likely to have shorter labors going forward," Manglani says. So that's some comfort if you wind up with a long labor the first time around — according to Parenting, later labors often take only half as long as the first baby.
"Of course, this does not always hold true," Darby Morris of Sweetbay Doula, located in the San Francisco area, says in an email interview with Romper. "Sometimes second births can be longer than first births for a variety of reasons." Still, it's a good bet that your second, third, and fourth labors won't be the marathon first-timers so often experience.
2. Your Mother Had A Short Labor
"One of the first things I ask my clients about is how fast births are in their family," Morris says. "Families can have a history of fast births." Because of this, Morris asks clients about grandma's experience on both the mother and the father's side. Unfortunately, long labors can be hereditary, too, according to What To Expect, which also noted that other largely non-genetic influences — like baby's positioning — will also play a big role when the rubber meets the road.
If your mother gave birth quickly, however, it's probably not because there's a mystical "short labor" gene. Manglani explains that you're likely to have a similar pelvic structure to your mom's, and that your baby's likely to be a similar size.
3. Your Previous Labor Was Short
Yes, history can repeat itself. A prior precipitous labor in particular may increase the likelihood that you'll have another fast birth, according to American Pregnancy, so it's well worth informing your doctor or midwife of your birth history. While every birth is different, Manglani tells Romper, "[w]omen are likely to follow a similar labor pattern with subsequent labors."
4. Your Contractions Don't Mess Around
"The early signs of a fast labor are contractions that are very close together and intense," Morris says, explaining that early labor contractions are typically "sporadic," often 15 to 30 minutes apart. "If initial contractions are instead two to three minutes (or less) apart," and they just don't let up, this might be a sign of an impending short labor.
In addition, pay attention to the time between contractions. If there's almost no recovery time in between, Morris says this too might be a sign your labor will go off like a shot. American Pregnancy explained that the strong urge to push, or a feeling of pressure like you're going to have a bowel movement, is also associated with a fast labor.
5. You're A Young Mom
Specifically, in your teens. As a study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research found, teenaged women are much more likely than older women to have a rapid labor, and going into labor prematurely is also associated with a fast, or even precipitous, birth.
In some cases, labor happens too quickly. "Tearing, postpartum hemorrhage, shock, delivery in an unsterile environment, and potential aspiration of fluid are all concerns with fast labors," Morris says. And extremely short labors can even cause "emotional turmoil" for an unsuspecting mother, American Pregnancy noted.
6. You Go Into Labor Naturally
Believe it or not, labors induced in the hospital actually tend to take longer than labors that begin naturally. According to Mayo Clinic, labor induction is an involved medical procedure, and it might take days just to initiate the labor process. When labor does start after induction, your movements will likely be restricted, and as Manglani explains, being stuck on your back can actually slow labor down. Manglani strongly recommends that women in pursuit of shorter labors stay home until they're in active labor and experiencing regular contractions.
To help women go into labor on their own, Morris encourages her clients see a pelvic floor therapist, acupuncturist, or chiropractor to make sure their body is ready to give birth. As the due date approaches, she also recommends clients try safe self-induction techniques, like gentle exercise and movement.
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