Complications During Labor and Delivery

Pregnant woman delivering at the hospital.
Jay L. Clendenin/Aurora/Getty Images

Complications in labor and delivery are relatively rare, but they can occur to any mother, in any birth setting, with any practitioner. While most complications can be managed quickly and easily, some have the potential to cause serious outcomes for mother, child, or both.

That said, a healthy mother, who has had a healthy, well cared for pregnancy is likely to have fewer complications than a mother who has had little prenatal care or who has a history of chronic disease or a history of pregnancy complications. Your midwife or doctor can explain your risk factors to you during your prenatal visits.

Common Complications

Preterm Labor

Preterm labor starts before the 37th week of pregnancy; in some cases, it can start as early as 20 weeks. The earlier the labor starts, the riskier the birth. Very premature babies have a number of challenges to overcome; even after they leave the hospital, they may wind up with developmental disabilities. Talk to your practitioner about the signs of premature labor and get instructions on what you should do if you experience these signs. About 10% of women will experience preterm labor. And the risks to your baby increase even they are born just a few weeks early.

Placenta Issues

Many placental issues are known before birth, though occasionally this is not true. Issues with the placenta can also occur once labor is started. You may suffer from the placenta covering all or part of the cervix (placenta previa), your placenta may tear away from the uterine wall too early (placental abruption/abruptio) or your placenta may grow through the lining of your uterus. All of these are more common after uterine surgery, like a cesarean section. These problems can cause maternal or fetal hemorrhage, resulting in the loss of blood or death for mother or baby.

Bleeding Issues

Postpartum hemorrhage is bleeding excessively after birth. This is more common with a cesarean section, but can also happen after vaginal birth. There are certain factors that make it more likely including:

Talk to your doctor or midwife about how they handle bleeding in the postpartum period. Most start with uterine massage, then go to medications and finally surgery to remove the placenta, the uterine lining and, worst-case scenario, the uterus.

Fetal Distress

Fetal distress can be caused by cord issues, medications in labor, infection, and induction. This is one of the reasons that fetal monitoring is used in labor. Other variables in the baby's heart rate in labor could be the sign of meconium, the baby's first bowel movement. Neither of these are absolute indicators, which is why there are other tests used, including fetal scalp pH sampling and the use of internal fetal monitoring. If the birth is not imminent, a forceps, vacuum extractor or cesarean section are used to accomplish the birth more quickly

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