Complications During Labor and Birth

Sometimes complications can occur during the labor or deliver process for various reasons. Types of complications that can occur include some of the following:

Infection. Infections occurs when germs travel to the uterus from various sources. If your bag of water breaks, the protective layer around the baby is gone and can increase your risk of infection.

Signs of an infection in the uterus during labor include:

  • Fever
  • Baby’s heart rate increases
  • Green or yellow amniotic fluid (water around your baby)
  • Foul (bad) odor to your amniotic fluid

If your provider detects these signs during your labor, they will treat you with antibiotics during your labor. In addition, your baby will need extra tests after they are born to make sure they have not developed an infection. You will also receive antibiotics during your postpartum stay. Developing an infection during your labor can be a serious condition that can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Dysfunctional labor. Dysfunctional labor means that your labor is not going normally. While it is true that everyone’s labor is different, there are still guidelines that your provider will follow that tells them labor is safe to continue. Those guidelines include how quickly your cervix (opening of the womb) opens over time and how long it takes the baby to make its way through the birth canal. Some women are not able to birth a baby through the birth canal for various reasons and causes the labor to be slow or even stop. This can be because the baby may not be in an ideal position to pass through the birth canal or the bones that surround the birth canal do not allow for a baby to pass. Dysfunctional labor is a top cause for cesarean (surgical) deliveries. Your provider will balance patience and safety in order to determine if your labor is going normally.

Prolapsed umbilical cord. A prolapsed umbilical cord is when the cord that supplies nutrients and oxygen to your baby is compromised.  When your bag of water breaks, sometimes it can cause the umbilical cord to fall below the baby’s body and protrude from the cervix (womb opening).  The weight of the baby’s body presses against the cord and decreases the oxygen and nutrient supply to the baby.  You may not be able to tell if this has occurred, but sometimes you can feel a jelly-like substance protruding from the vagina.  In addition, you will feel decreased fetal movement.  If this occurs, it is a medical emergency and requires an immediately cesarean delivery.  A prolapsed umbilical cord is a rare event, but is why it is important to be evaluated by your provider when you think your bag of water has broken.

Shoulder dystocia. There are bones that surround the birth canal that must make room for the baby to pass.  Sometimes, the baby grows too big for the pelvis (hip bones) and can get caught behind the bones that surround the birth canal.  When the baby’s shoulder gets trapped behind the bones of the pelvis, this is called shoulder dystocia.  It is a medical emergency if this occurs.  The doctor will have to try various maneuvers (hand movements) in order to release the shoulder of the baby from behind the bones of the pelvis (hip bones).  It is important to follow the instructions of the provider so that the baby can be birthed quickly after this issue has been identified.  Most babies are able to recover quickly after this event.  In extremely rare cases the baby can have long term effects that interfere with movement of the arm that was trapped.

There are other complications that can occur that are not listed on this page.  It is best to talk to your provider about complications that might be specific to you.  While these complications can be serious, they do not occur in the majority of labors, but it is good to be prepared in the case a complication does occur during your labor.