Precipitous delivery in the ED

Precipitous delivery


You are chatting with your triage nurses on a slow night shift when a car pulls up to the front doors. A 34 year old woman G5P4 at 39 weeks gestation is wheeled up to triage by a slightly panicked appearing boyfriend. Her waters broke in the car on the way in and she feels the need to push. A quick exam after you get her through the doors reveals that she is crowning. We need a plan for precipitous delivery.


My approach

Call for help. Both obstetrics and pediatrics should be paged.

Call for equipment. Hopefully your ED will have an emergency delivery kit. At minimum you want sterile gloves, sterile towels, scissors, umbilical cord clamps, sterile 4×4 gauze, a needle driver, and sutures. You also must get the neonatal rewarmer and neonatal resuscitation equipment ready.

Get a very brief history: How many babies are in your belly? What is your due date? You can ask more if time permits.

If time permits, ultrasound to confirm head is presenting part. (If it’s not, see the post on breech delivery)

If time permits, clean and drape the perineum

Place 1 hand on the head to minimize uncontrolled movements. With the other hand provide gentle pressure on the perineum

Reassure mom. Have her push during contractions. Aim for 10 seconds of pushing, repeated 3 times for every contraction. When head presents, stop pushing and instead have mom breath through contractions.

When head is delivered, sweep neck for a nuchal cord

  • If cord present, slide over head
  • If cannot get over head, clamp x2 and cut between; deliver the baby  ASAP

Provide downwards (gentle) traction to deliver anterior shoulder. (If you cannot or the head “turtles” backwards – go to the shoulder dystocia algorithm)

Provide gentle upwards traction to deliver posterior shoulder


Clamp the cord about 3cm from the abdomen x2 and cut. If the delivery was not ideally sterile, take the time to clean the umbilical stump (to prevent omphalitis)

Oxytocin 20units in 1 L NS, run at 250ml/hr

Stimulate baby, get apgars, congratulate mom

If neonatal resuscitation is required, get to it


Other guides to emergency department obstetrics:

The precipitous delivery

Difficult delivery: shoulder dystocia

Difficult delivery: breech delivery

Difficult delivery: umbilical prolapse

Postpartum hemorrhage

Cardiac arrest and perimortem c-section

Other FOAMed Resources for Precipitous delivery

I didn’t find any. Let me know if I missed something, so I can add it.


Pope, Jennifer V. and Tibbles, Carrie D. (2012). The difficult emergency delivery. In: Winters, M.E. (Ed). Emergency Department Resuscitations of the Critically Ill. Dallas, Tx: ACEP.

VanRooyen MJ, Scott JA. Chapter 105. Emergency Delivery. In: Tintinalli JE et al eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2011.

Cite this article as:
Morgenstern, J. Precipitous delivery in the ED, First10EM, March 7, 2015. Available at:

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