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Childbirth Problems

Summary

Childbirth is the process of giving birth to a baby. It includes labor and delivery. Usually everything goes well, but problems can happen. They may cause a risk to the mother, baby, or both. Some of the more common childbirth problems include

  • Preterm (premature) labor, when your labor starts before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy
  • Premature rupture of membranes (PROM), when your water breaks too early. If labor does not start soon afterwards, this can raise the risk of infection.
  • Problems with the placenta, such as the placenta covering the cervix, separating from the uterus before birth, or being attached too firmly to the uterus
  • Labor that does not progress, meaning that labor is stalled. This can happen when
    • Your contractions weaken
    • Your cervix does not dilate (open) enough or is taking too long to dilate
    • The baby is not in the right position
    • The baby is too big or your pelvis is too small for the baby to move through the birth canal
  • Abnormal heart rate of the baby. Often, an abnormal heart rate is not a problem. But if the heart rate gets very fast or very slow, it can be a sign that your baby is not getting enough oxygen or that there are other problems.
  • Problems with the umbilical cord, such as the cord getting caught on the baby's arm, leg, or neck. It's also a problem if cord comes out before the baby does.
  • Problems with the position of the baby, such as breech, in which the baby is going to come out feet first
  • Shoulder dystocia, when the baby's head comes out, but the shoulder gets stuck
  • Perinatal asphyxia, which happens when the baby does not get enough oxygen in the uterus, during labor or delivery, or just after birth
  • Perineal tears, tearing of your vagina and the surrounding tissues
  • Excessive bleeding, which can happen when the delivery causes tears to the uterus or if you are not able to deliver the placenta after you give birth to the baby
  • Post-term pregnancy, when your pregnancy lasts more than 42 weeks

If you have problems in childbirth, your health care provider may need to give you medicines to induce or speed up labor, use tools to help guide the baby out of the birth canal, or deliver the baby by Cesarean section.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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