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I’m concerned that my labor will come on very suddenly
Q: What should I do if I go into labor very suddenly and can’t make it to the hospital in time? My whole family has a history of going into labor and delivering quickly, and we are 20 minutes away from the nearest hospital. Would you please give us some advice on preparing for the unexpected?
A: Dear Melanie,

I am glad that you are thinking ahead and trying to plan for the possibility of rapid delivery. While you may not have the same experience as other women in your family, it’s best to be prepared.

Even if you have a rapid labor with your first baby, it is likely to take hours rather than minutes to progress through labor and delivery. Some women begin to have cervical dilation before labor begins. This means that the cervix has already shortened (effaced) and dilated (opened) before any obvious signs of labor occur. If the cervix is thinned and more than 3 centimeters open BEFORE you enter labor, you will be likely to have a rapid labor. Have your health care provider check your cervix at each obstetric visit in the last weeks of your pregnancy (this requires a digital exam to measure effacement and dilation). If your cervix is already dilated, your doctor can help you decide how close you should stay to the hospital. Some women choose to stay with friends or in a hotel close to their chosen hospital at the end of pregnancy. Other times, women may arrange an induction of labor, to reduce the concern about going into labor far from the hospital. An induction is when your health care provider initiates labor by either giving an intravenous medication (Pitocin) or by breaking your bag of water. It is often recommended if a woman has had a personal history of rapid labor in the past and has a well-dilated cervix prior to the onset of labor.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist