When Childbirth Gets Scary
Many labor complications sound worse than they are. We explain 6 of the most common and how your doctor will manage them.
COMPLICATION: Meconium Aspiration
WHAT IT MEANS: Meconium (a black, tarry substance in the baby's intestines) is present in amniotic fluid the baby has inhaled. This can cause breathing complications.
FREQUENCY: More common in babies a week or more overdue, meconium is passed in 10 percent of labors. Of these, between 1 percent and 6 percent of babies become ill from it.
LIKELY REMEDIES: If meconium is spotted, your doctor or midwife will clear it from the baby's nose and mouth at birth. If the baby has inhaled it, she'll go to intensive care for observation. "Most babies do fine and just need a little breathing support," says Goldstone-Orly.
COMPLICATION: Placenta Previa
WHAT IT MEANS: The placenta is covering the cervix.
FREQUENCY: Placenta previa is found early in pregnancy about 75 percent of the time. Usually, by the end of pregnancy, the placenta has pulled away and it's not a problem.
LIKELY REMEDIES: If the placenta is covering the cervix at 36 weeks, a C-section will likely be scheduled, Goldstone-Orly says. "If the mother is bleeding vaginally, however, she should have a C-section immediately because there can be significant blood loss," she adds.
COMPLICATION: Breech Baby
WHAT IT MEANS: The baby is positioned in the uterus head up, bottom down; sideways; or feet first. It's also known as "malpresentation."
FREQUENCY:Rare (4 percent).
LIKELY REMEDIES: Some doctors and midwives say elevating your hips above your heart by getting on all fours, then lowering yourself onto your forearms, encourages the baby to turn. At 37 to 38 weeks, some doctors try an external version--turning the baby manually by applying pressure to the mother's abdomen. If that doesn't work or the baby flips back, the doctor can try again or schedule a C-section. Very few OBs will attempt a vaginal delivery for fear that the baby's head will get stuck in the birth canal.
COMPLICATION: Fetal Distress
WHAT IT MEANS: " 'Fetal distress' is an older, vague term that OBs don't generally use anymore," says Levine. "If you do hear it, ask for specifics." The term often has to do with the fetal heart rate; it's assumed the fetus is in some kind of peril when the heart rate is slow, for example, or doesn't return to normal following a contraction.
FREQUENCY: "True fetal distress implies urgency--I'm really worried about this baby right now--and that doesn't happen very often," Levine says.
LIKELY REMEDIES: If the woman's cervix is fully dilated and the baby's head is low, your practitioner might use forceps or a vacuum extractor to deliver the baby quickly. Otherwise, it's a C-section.