How to Deliver a Baby in an Emergency

Man Takes Pregnant Woman to the Hospital to Have a Baby by Car

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When you hear the words emergency childbirth you might think of old police shows with mom giving birth in the bathroom with her older child being talked step-by-step through the childbirth by the operator on the 9-1-1 call. Or you might picture being stuck in a cabin in a snowstorm with only your partner as the soap operas would have you believe. These certainly happen but are few and far between, that's why they make the news in the first place.

Either way, the thought has probably crossed your mind that you might be one of these women. First of all, let me tell you that this is very unlikely that you will experience an emergency childbirth. Secondly, let me reassure you that when birth happens this quickly it's usually because everything is going very well (Unless you are having the baby before you are full term.).

Women delivering at a hospital or birth center may fear a rapid labor or rush hour traffic for their trip preventing them from getting to the hospital on time. Women who are giving birth at home may fear that their practitioner won't arrive in time to catch the baby. No matter where you are planning to have your baby, it's a good idea to talk to your midwife or doctor about your fears. They can give you a few simple instructions and help calm your nerves in the very unlikely event that this will happen.​

What to Do If You Have to Deliver a Baby

When you read these instructions you will find that they read more as a list of what not to do. That's because childbirth is a normal event, and rarely an illness.

  • Don't panic. Remaining calm can help you focus on the birth, even if you are alone.
  • Call your doctor, midwife, or 9-1-1 if you are able. If you are in your car, pull over and put on your blinkers. Do not speed. Do not continue driving. There is no use getting into a wreck and hurting people by driving wildly, you're much safer having the baby in the car while it's stopped.
  • Remind the mother to try to pant, or only push very gently with the contractions.
  • As the baby's head becomes visible, place your hand on the head and provide it with support to keep it from popping out. Remind mother to try and pant during this part to help prevent tearing. If you're alone, simply place your hands over the baby's head as best as possible.
  • Do not pull on the baby's head or body! Let the baby and your body do the work. You may gently guide the baby out.
  • Gently stroke downward on the baby's nose to help expel the excess mucus and amniotic fluid.
  • Place the baby skin-to-skin on mom, with the baby's head slightly lower than its body (to help facilitate draining the mucus). Cover both of them with dry blankets or towels.
  • Don't cut or pull on the umbilical cord. While you may see this on television, both the mom and baby are safer without the cord being cut.
  • If the placenta is born, place it next to the baby, again do not cut the cord.
  • Keep mom and baby safe until the practitioner arrives, or until help gets there. Or until you can get to the place of birth.

If You Call 9-1-1

If you need to call 9-1-1 you will want to be sure to give them enough information to help you. You should tell them how far along in pregnancy you are, where you are located so that they can send someone to you, and any other additional information. If you have others with you or can manage, unlock the door to your home or location. The operator on the phone will likely stay on the line to help talk you through the birth if the baby winds up being born prior to the arrival of the emergency team.

Dr. Gregory White, in his book Emergency Birth, says, "When in doubt, do nothing." This is probably the best advice available. Be sure to remain calm and do what you need to do to get help and stay safe.

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Article Sources
  • White, Gregory. Emergency Childbirth: A Manual. 2002.