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What are some common complications during labor and delivery?

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Labor and delivery are different for everyone. Complications sometimes happen. Possible complications include (but are not limited to):

  • Labor that does not progress. Sometimes the cervix does not dilate in a timely manner to ready the body for delivery. If labor is not progressing, a health care provider may give the woman medications to speed up labor, or the woman may need a cesarean delivery.1
  • Abnormal heart rate of the baby. Many times an abnormal heart rate during labor does not mean there is a problem. A health care provider will likely ask the woman to switch positions to help the infant get more blood flow. In certain instances or if test results show there is a problem, delivery might have to happen right away. When this happens, the woman is more likely to need a cesarean delivery, or the health care provider will need to do an episiotomy (a surgical cut between the vagina and anus) to widen the vaginal opening for delivery.2
  • Perinatal asphyxia. This condition occurs when the baby does not get enough oxygen in the uterus, during labor and delivery, or just after birth.3,4
  • Shoulder dystocia. In this situation, the infant’s head has come out of the vagina but one of the shoulders becomes stuck.5
  • Excessive bleeding. If delivery results in tears to the uterus or if the uterus does not contract to deliver the placenta, heavy bleeding can result. Worldwide, such bleeding is a leading cause of maternal death.6 The NICHD has supported studies to investigate the use of misoprostol to reduce bleeding, especially in resource-poor settings.

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). FAQs: Labor induction. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq154.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120806T1152493842External Web Site Policy (PDF – 234 KB) [top]
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2006). ACOG Practice Bulletin. Episiotomy. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 107(4), 957–962. [top]
  3. McGuire, W. (2007). Perinatal asphyxia. Clinical Evidence, 11, 320. [top]
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists & American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014). Neonatal encephalopathy and neurologic outcome. Second edition. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. [top]
  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2003). ACOG Practice Bulletin: Shoulder dystocia. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 80, 87–92. [top]
  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2006). ACOG Practice Bulletin: Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists number 76, October 2006: Postpartum hemorrhage. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 108(4), 1039–1047. [top]

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