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Precipitous birth not occurring on a labor and delivery unit

Vanessa A Barss, MD, FACOG
Section Editors
Vincenzo Berghella, MD
Robert S Hockberger, MD, FACEP
Deputy Editor
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG


The terms precipitate or precipitous labor have been defined as a labor that lasts no more than three hours from onset of regular contractions to delivery [1]. Each year, hundreds of deliveries in the United States occur precipitously in emergency departments and medical and surgical hospital rooms, as well as outside of the hospital setting in homes and cars. In most of these cases, labor and delivery results in good outcomes in the absence of physician/midwife intervention or a traditional delivery site.

This topic will review the key points for assisting women during an imminent delivery of a fetus in cephalic presentation either in or outside of a medical facility. It is intended for healthcare providers who do not perform obstetrical deliveries as part of their usual practice. Related topics on labor and delivery are presented in detail elsewhere.

(See "Management of normal labor and delivery".)

(See "Normal and abnormal labor progression".)


The birth process is illustrated in the diagrams (figure 1 and figure 2) and photographs (picture 1A-F).

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 03, 2017.
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  1. Hughes EC. Obstetric-Gynecologic Terminology, Davis, Philadelphia 1972. p.390.