Five Common Labor Complications | Fit Pregnancy

5 Common Labor Complications

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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5 Common Labor Complications

{3} Abnormal fetal heart rate or rhythm

What it means The fetal heart rate goes outside the “normal” range of 110 to 160 beats per minute or the rhythm is unusual.

Frequency 15 percent

What usually happens Continuous electronic fetal monitoring is nearly universal in U.S. hospitals even though it’s not recommended for low-risk women and hasn’t been shown to improve birth outcomes. “Sometimes the monitoring is very reassuring, and other times it’s clear the baby is not getting adequate oxygenation and we need to do a Cesarean section,” says Greenfield. “But often we’re somewhere in the middle.” Your doctor or midwife will consider several factors, including the length and pattern of the abnormality and how close you are to delivery before deciding whether to let labor continue or perform a C-section.

Can you prevent it? Maybe. Greenfield says lying on your back during labor increases the chances of abnormal fetal heart rate tracings. For low-risk women, she adds, intermittent rather than continuous monitoring may be preferable because of fewer false alarms and subsequent C-sections.

{4} Amniotic cavity issues

What it means Too much or too little amniotic fluid or rupturing of the membranes that hold the amniotic fluid (aka your “water breaks”) before labor at or beyond 37 weeks.

Frequency 12 percent

What usually happens Excessive fluid is common and rarely causes problems during labor, says Greenfield. But once your water breaks, there’s less of a cushion for the umbilical cord, which can allow it to become compressed. If this is suspected, your doctor or midwife may insert water into the amniotic cavity. If your water breaks before you start having contractions, they’ll likely begin within 24 hours. Most care providers will want to induce labor right away, however, to decrease the chance of infection reaching the baby.

Can you prevent it? No

{5} Failure to progress

What it means Labor stalls.

Frequency 8 percent

What usually happens Failure to progress is the most common reason for a C-section. Often, Pitocin is given to strengthen contractions.

Can you prevent it? Maybe. To reduce your risk of a “failed” labor, you can:

>> Stay home until your contractions are three minutes apart, if your doctor or midwife says it’s OK.

>> Gain no more than the recommended amount of weight.

>> Hire a doula. Having a professional birth assistant results in faster labors and fewer Cesareans, research shows.

>> Change positions. “Reclining is the worst position for labor,” says Greenfield. Sit, lie on your side, stand up or get on your hands and knees. Though you can’t predict what will happen during labor, the best way to be prepared for a potentially difficult delivery, Greenfield advises, is to do your homework and select a care provider and a hospital or birth center that share your philosophies and will respect your wishes when possible.


Pregnancy 'Complications' That Aren't

While documented as complications in the federal government’s recent report, these common prenatal conditions are either benign, not true complications or easily corrected, according to Childbirth Connection, a New York City-based nonprofit group aimed at improving maternity care: previous C-section

>> advanced maternal age (35 years or older)

>> prolonged pregnancy (past 40 weeks)

>> genitourinary infections 

>> anemia


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