During labor, a surge of hormones called oxytocin causes the muscles in the mother’s uterus to contract to allow her cervix to dilate and male room for the baby to pass through. Delivery can occur in two ways: vaginal (through the birth canal) or cesarean (surgical).
With the advent of modern medicine, most complications of childbirth can be anticipated and managed in time. However, a few complications may occur unexpectedly, and some may be life-threatening to both mother and child.
Labor that does not progress
By far, the most common complication during childbirth is labor that does not progress. Sometimes, labor starts fine but over time the contractions slow down, the cervix doesn’t dilate enough, and the baby’s descent in the birth canal is hindered.
Who is at risk?
This complications occur in the following conditions:
- First-time pregnancies
- Women over 35
- Baby weighs more than 8.82 pounds in utero
- Baby is in an abnormal position in the utus (breech position)
- Mother has weak uterine contractions due to exhaustion and dehydration or in cases of prolonged labor
If your labor is nonprogressive, your doctor may put you on a Pitocin drip, or synthetic oxytocin, to increase contractions and speed up labor. If that fails, you may need to be taken for a cesarean delivery.
What are other complications of childbirth?
Other common childbirth complications include:
- Premature rupture of the membranes: Labor proceeds within 24 hours of a woman's water breaking. If your water breaks before 34 weeks of pregnancy, this is known as early rupture of the membranes and can cause infection to the baby or further complications.
- Perineal tears: Your vagina and the surrounding tissues are likely to tear during delivery. Usually they heal fine, but in some cases, the tears are deeper and may need stitches. This can cause your pelvic muscles to weaken, causing future problems such as urinary incontinence.
- Eclampsia: A sudden increase in blood pressure during labor can cause seizures in the mother. This condition is more common if you have had an increase in blood pressure at any time during your pregnancy.
- Excessive bleeding: If delivery results in tears to the uterus or if the uterus does not contract to deliver the placenta, it can result in heavy bleeding. This is called postpartum hemorrhage and is a leading cause of maternal deaths in many countries.
- Preterm labor: Preterm labor means the mother goes into labor before week 37 of pregnancy, before the baby’s organs have matured. A preterm labor needs special interventions for the baby, such as the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
- Postpartum sepsis: Infection of the uterus after delivery is common in people with compromised immunity, such as those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), diabetes, etc. The condition presents with foul-smelling vaginal discharge and high fever, and the mother may end up with sepsis.
What complications can occur with the baby?
The following complications can arise in the baby:
- Umbilical cord around the neck: The umbilical cord may get caught on an arm or leg or wrap around the neck as the infant moves through the birth canal.
- Abnormal heart rate: An abnormal heart rate in the baby during labor is not always an issue if it is temporary. If the heart rate remains low for a longer time, the baby may suffer, requiring emergency cesarean delivery.
- Shoulder dystocia: This is typically seen in big babies, if the mother has diabetes, or if the infant's head has come out of the vagina but one of their shoulders becomes stuck. In such cases, the mother will need a lower segment cesarean section (LSCS).
What are complications of cesarean delivery?
In a cesarean delivery (C-section), the baby is surgically removed through an incision in the mother's abdomen and then a second incision in the uterus. Rates of cesarean deliveries have increased exponentially and been linked with different factors, from increasing rates of obesity and diabetes to multiple births and increased maternal age.
Once delivery and afterbirth are complete, doctors repair the incisions made to the mother's uterus with stitches, which will eventually dissolve under the skin. They close the abdominal skin with stitches or staples, which will be removed before the mother leaves the hospital.
Complications of cesarean delivery include:
Latest Pregnancy News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top What Is the Most Common Complication of Childbirth Related Articles
C-Section (Cesarean Birth)C-section (cesarean birth) is surgery to deliver a baby. C-section options, what to expect before, during, and after the delivery of your baby are important considerations for birth. Reasons for a C-section delivery include multiple births, health problems, problems with the pelvis, placenta, or umbilical cord. Vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC) is also an important issue to discuss with your doctor if you have had prior C-section deliveries.
Childbirth Class OptionsChildbirth class options include the Lamaze technique, the Bradley Method, the Alexander Technique, and HypnoBirthing.
Pregnancy SymptomsWhat are the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy? Can you know before your missed period? Read about nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), bloating, tender breasts, and more. Explore first trimester symptoms of pregnancy and learn what week pregnancy symptoms start.
Exercise & PregnancyPregnancy exercises and workouts for moms-to-be include Kegel exercises and prenatal yoga. A prenatal workout is an important part of healthy living. Try these safe exercises for pregnancy.
Labor and DeliveryEarly and later symptoms and signs of labor and delivery are unique to each woman. Early signs of labor are "lightning" and passing the mucus plug. Later symptoms and signs that labor that labor is are the woman's water breaking, and when contractions begin. There are three stages of labor, stage 1 is the longest and occurs when the cervix begins to thin and dilate. During stage 2 of labor the baby passes through the birth canal and remains there until delivery, and stage 3, is when the baby is delivered.
Miscarriage is the medical term for the spontaneous loss of pregnancy from conception to 20 weeks gestation. Risk factors for a woman having a miscarriage include cigarette smoking, older maternal age, radiation exposure, previous miscarriage, maternal weight, illicit drug use, use of NSAIDs, and trauma or anatomical abnormalities to the uterus. There are five classified types of miscarriage: 1) threatened abortion; 2) incomplete abortion; 3) complete abortion; 4) missed abortion; and (5 septic abortion. While there are no specific treatments to stop a miscarriage, a woman's doctor may advise avoiding certain activities, bed rest, etc. If a woman believes she has had a miscarriage, she needs to seek prompt medical attention.
Preeclampsia (Pregnancy Induced Hypertension)Preeclampsia is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia typically begins after the 20th week of pregnancy. When preeclampsia causes seizures, it is termed "eclampsia" and is the second leading cause of maternal death of in the US. Preeclampsia is the leading cause of fetal complications. Risk factors for preeclampsia include high blood pressure, obesity, multiple births, and women with preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. Pregnancy planning and lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of preeclampsia during pregnancy.
Pregnancy Myths QuizBeing pregnant is a delicate time for both mother and baby. Take this quiz to separate the myths and facts about being pregnant, and learn the truth behind healthy pregnancies!
Pregnancy: Birthing, Breastfeeding, and Parenting ClassesPreparing for a baby is an important step in parents' lives. Choosing the right birthing class and method (Lamaze, Bradley, etc.) is important for the mother, baby, and father or support giver. Parenting classes are also information for first time parents. Information is provided about diapering, feeding, and bathing your baby as well as the different stages of child development.
Pain Relief Options for ChildbirthWomen experience and tolerate pain differently. For some pregnant women, focused breathing is all they need to get through labor and childbirth; but for others, numbing of the pain is desired. There are a number of different medications a woman can take during labor and childbirth. It is important for you to learn what pain relief options are available. Please discuss the options with your health care professional well before your "birth day" so that when you are in labor you understand the choices.
Placenta PreviaPlacenta previa is a condition during pregnancy when the placenta lies low in the uterus either partly or completely blocking the uterus. Women with placenta previa generally deliver their baby via cesarean delivery. There are several types of placenta previa: 1) a low-lying placenta, 2) a partial placenta previa, and 3) a total placenta previa, which covers and blocks the cervical opening. Women who are at risk of placenta previa are women who have delivered a previous baby by cesarean section, and are also at risk of placenta accreta, placenta increta, or placenta percreta.
Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Preeclampsia is a condition in pregnant women marked by high blood pressure and a high level of protein in the urine. Eclampsia occurs when preeclampsia goes untreated. Eclampsia can cause coma and death of the mother and baby. Preeclampsia symptoms include rapid weight gain, abdominal pain, headaches, blood in the urine, dizziness, and excessive vomiting and nausea. The only real cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia is the birth of the baby.
Stages of PregnancySee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Pregnancy: 7 Common Third Trimester TestsTesting is often recommended during the third trimester of pregnancy. These tests are designed to ensure the health and safety of both the child and mother. Common tests during the third trimester of a woman's pregnancy include:
- group B streptococcus screening,
- electronic fetal heart monitoring,
- nonstress test,
- contraction stress test, and
- a biophysical profile.