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Labor and Delivery: Other FAQs

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Basic information for topics, such as "What is it?" is available in the Topic Information section. In addition, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are specific to a certain topic are answered in this section.

pregnant woman looking at clock; text at top: Know the difference between True and False LaborWhat is false labor, and what are Braxton Hicks contractions?

False labor describes irregular contractions that sometimes happen before true labor begins. These contractions are also called Braxton Hicks contractions. It can be hard to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labor contractions.

The chart below, from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, shows some ways that Braxton Hicks contractions differ from true contractions.1

Type of Change False Labor True Labor
Timing of contractions Do not come regularly and do not get closer together Come at regular times and get closer together over time. Each lasts about 30 to 70 seconds.
Change with movement Contractions may stop when walking or resting, or they may stop with a change of position. Contractions continue despite movement.
Strength of contractions Usually weak and do not get much stronger, or may start strong and get weaker Get steadily stronger
Pain of contractions Usually felt only in the front Usually starts in the back and moves to the front

How are labor and delivery different for a woman having multiple babies?

Women having multiples―twins, triplets, or quadruplets, for example―are more likely to have certain complications during labor and delivery. The most common complications are preterm labor and preterm birth.

Preterm labor is labor that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm labor can result in preterm birth. More than half of all twins are born preterm. Preterm infants can have problems with breathing and eating and may have to stay in the hospital longer than other infants.

Women having multiples are also more likely to need a cesarean delivery.2

What is the APGAR test?

An APGAR test, performed 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth, determines whether a newborn infant needs help breathing or is having heart problems. A health care provider assesses the following aspects of an infant's health:

  • Skin color
  • Heart rate
  • Reflexes (response to stimulation such as a mild pinch)
  • Muscle tone
  • Breathing

Based on this examination, the health care provider gives the infant an APGAR score of 1 to 10. The higher the score, the better the infant is doing.3

Illustrated APGAR (appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, respiration) Test Scoring chart. The chart visually demonstrates how well a  baby tolerated the birthing process by providing five categories (the rows in  the chart) by which one must rate the newborn on a scale of 0 to 2 (the columns  of the chart), where 0 is the lowest (undesirable) and 2 is the highest (desirable). Row 1: Appearance: Score 0 is 'Blue all over,' showing a  simple illustration of the figure of a baby, all blue; Score 1 is 'Blue only at  extremities,' showing the figure with blue arms and legs and green torso and  head; and Score 2 is 'No blue coloration,' showing the figure, only all purple. Row 2: Pulse: Score 0 is 'No pulse'; Score 1 is 'less than  100 beats per minute'; Score 2 is 'greater than 100 beats per minute.' Row 3: Grimace: Score 0 is 'No response to stimulation,'  showing an illustrated face of a baby who has no facial expression; Score 1 is  'Grimace or feeble cry when stimulated,' showing an illustrated face of a baby  who demonstrates a grimace with a closed mouth; Score 2 is 'Sneezing, coughing,  or pulling away when stimulated,' showing an illustrated face of a baby who has  an open mouth and is the most expressive of the three illustrations. Row 4: Activity: Score 0 is 'No movement,' showing a simple  illustration of the figure of a baby colored blue and demonstrating no  movement; Score 1 is 'Some movement,' showing the figure colored green and  demonstrating movement in one leg; Score 2 is 'Active movement,' showing the  figure colored purple with its arms and legs demonstrating movement. Row 5: Respiration: Score 0 is 'No breathing';  Score 1 is 'Weak, slow, or irregular breathing'; Score 2 is 'Strong cry.'

Are there added risks for older women during labor and delivery?

Women older than 35 are at higher risk for preterm labor and preterm birth. Preterm infants can have serious short- and long-term health problems.

Older women are also more likely to have a stillbirth, which is when a fetus dies in the uterus after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Women in their 30s are also more likely than younger women to need a cesarean delivery.4

What should women consider when choosing to deliver outside a hospital setting?

Although most women give birth in hospitals, some families choose a home birth or birth in an out-of-hospital birthing center.5 The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that births in hospitals or birthing centers are the safest options.6

If you are thinking about giving birth outside a hospital, you should talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits.

Women who are good candidates for home birth6:

  • Are generally in good health
  • Have not had a previous cesarean delivery
  • Do not have pregnancy-related health problems or illness
  • Do not have multiples
  • Have a fetus with good size and health
  • Have a fetus in the head-down position
  • Go into labor at 37 weeks or later

Planned home births should have the following resources in place6:

  • A certified nurse-midwife, certified midwife, or practicing physician
  • At least one appropriately trained individual whose primary responsibility is the care of the newborn infant
  • Quick access to health care providers who can provide consultation if complications happen
  • A reliable plan for safe and fast transportation to a nearby hospital in case of an emergency

Is giving birth in water beneficial?

Being immersed in water during early labor may help with pain. However, there are no proven health benefits to giving birth in water for either mother or baby, according to the AAP and ACOG. Water births have serious risks, including infections and drowning. ACOG recommends that women give birth in water only as part of a well-designed clinical trial.7

What are preterm labor and birth?

Labor and birth are considered preterm, also called premature, if they occur before 37 weeks. Preterm labor and birth share many features with regular labor and delivery, but they also have specific features all their own. For this reason, preterm labor and preterm birth are addressed in a separate topic.

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). FAQs: How to tell when labor begins. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 188 KB) [top]
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). FAQs: Having twins. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 319 KB) [top]
  3. MedlinePlus. (2011). APGAR. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from [top]
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). FAQs: Later childbearing. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 332 KB) [top]
  5. American College of Nurse-Midwives. (2011). Position statement: Home birth. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 64 KB) [top]
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Planned home birth. Retrieved July 30, 2013, from Web Site Policy [top]
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics & American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2014). Committee opinion: Immersion in water during labor and delivery. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 206 KB) [top]

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