Emergency childbirth: 8 things you need to know

My first labor lasted only two hours. I am 37 weeks pregnant with my second child and I'd like to know how to handle an emergency birth, just in case.


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

You are wise to be prepared. Here are the 8 things you need to know when your baby is coming faster than expected.

1. Be prepared.
If you really suspect that your baby may come too quickly to make it to the hospital, it might be a good idea to take the American Red Cross class on infant and children life support. This four to six hour class will teach the basics of rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. There are also many books on emergency childbirth. I would recommend "Emergency Childbirth: A Manual" by Gregory J. White

2. Call 911. It is important that you call 911 as soon as possible so that help will be on the way. In the meantime, 911 dispatchers can walk you through the steps of the birth. Most babies born under such circumstances do very well, although they are at risk for cold stress and low blood sugar; therefore, they do require immediate attention.

3. Stay at home if the birth feels imminent. A birth that is occurring too rapidly to get to the hospital usually occurs in awkward locations, without much privacy and with a fair amount of panic. If it feels and looks as if the birth is imminent, it is probably wiser to stay in your home than to attempt to make it to the hospital.

4. Remain calm. Although the advice to "remain calm" seems trite, it is important. It should be reassuring to know that when a precipitous birth is occurring, just allowing it to happen is the best advice.

5. Trust your instincts. Even if your husband does nothing, chances are your instincts will tell you what to do. Actions such as clearing mucus from the mouth and nose and cutting the cord are generally unnecessary. You can wrap the baby up against your bare skin and transport the baby and the mother together, with the cord and placenta still connected.

6. Try a side-lying position. Positioning yourself on your side will also lessen the intensity of the contractions and lessen the pressure, which in turn will help to prevent the baby's head from popping out. The father may wish to place his hand against the baby's head to provide counterpressure so it is not born too quickly. If you have a few minutes and the head of the baby is presenting, it is best to push between contractions rather than at the height of the contraction. These techniques will help prevent tearing.

7. Assume an "all fours" position if the birth becomes difficult. Also, helping the mother into an "all fours" position or a standing position may facilitate a difficult birth. There is no need for manipulation of the shoulders unless more than three or four minutes has passed since the birth of the head. Pushing gently down on the head toward the floor may help birth the top shoulder and lifting the baby up may facilitate birth of the lower shoulder.

8. Clear baby's nose and mouth if you notice difficulty breathing. If the baby is having difficulty breathing, clearing the nose and mouth with a cloth is a good idea. If no spontaneous breathing has occurred within a few seconds of the birth, drying the baby's back may stimulate it. Keep the baby warm and covered at all times. If the baby is blue and showing no signs of spontaneous respiration, rescue breathing (adult mouth over baby's nose and mouth) must begin.

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