Five Common Labor Complications | Fit Pregnancy

It's Complicated

The problems that arise during labor often sound scarier than they actually are. Here’s the real deal on the top five.

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Of the 4.2 million deliveries that took place in the United States in 2008, 94 percent involved a “complication,” according to a recent U.S. government report. Yikes, right? Not really, says Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., a professor of OB-GYN at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. “Most ‘complications’ are irrelevant,” she says. “They have no impact on the health of the mother or the baby.” Here’s a look at the five most common potentially sticky scenarios.

{1} Umbilical cord issues

What it means The umbilical cord is looped around the baby’s neck or otherwise entangled, possibly causing compression.

Frequency 23 percent

What usually happens A normal birth. If the cord isn’t being compressed, there’s no problem, Greenfield says. “Often the cord is wrapped around the baby’s body or arm and the doctor doesn’t even mention it because it didn’t cause any problems.” If the cord is being squeezed enough to decrease blood flow to the fetus, the heart rate will dip briefly. “We see this during contractions and it’s normal,” Greenfield says.

Can you prevent it? No

{2} Perineal lacerations

What it means A tear in the perineum, the area between the vagina and anus.

Frequency First degree: 16 percent; second degree: 17 percent; third or fourth degree: 2.5 percent. It’s more common with a first baby.

What usually happens A first-degree tear is a minor one that usually requires few or no stitches and causes minimal pain. A second-degree tear involves the muscles underneath and requires stitches, which dissolve during the healing process. Third- and fourth-degree tears extend to the anal sphincter and are, fortunately, rare.

Can you prevent it? Possibly. Perineal massage during the last month of pregnancy has been found to reduce the chances of perineal trauma during birth (that includes having an episiotomy), stitches from a tear or episiotomy and pain afterward, according to a review of research by The Cochrane Library. Having an overly large baby increases risk.

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