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10 Common Labor Complications

Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS · Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 07, 2022

    10 Common Labor Complications

    Labor complications are not an uncommon factor in pregnancy. Sometimes despite practicing every rule written in the pregnancy book, some childbirth problems can arise. However, pregnant women need to understand that even though there may be complications, science has solutions. It is important to know that labor complications are sometimes unforeseen and no one is to blame for them if you have taken the necessary steps for your baby.

    10 Most Common Labor Complications

    The following are the 10 most common labor complications that you should know about, not to cause fear but rather to inspire preparation.

    Breech position

    This happens when the baby’s position is upside down, which means butt/bottom are coming out before the head.

    If your gynecologist knows about the breech position well in advance, then they can try to change the position of the baby manually.

    However, if this is discovered when you’re well into labor, then vaginal birth is not an option. This, however, is not an unusual complication and there’s no clear reason as to why it happens. It’s important to note that both vaginal and C-section delivery can be risky when it comes to breech babies.

    Rapid labor

    One of the must-watch labor complications is if it happens too rapidly. Generally, labor lasts somewhere between 6 to 18 hours, depending on the condition of the mother. If it is less than this, which means between 3-5 hours, then it is considered rapid labor.

    The reasons for the same could be due to the baby’s size, uterine contractions, the birth canal being flexible, rapid increase in diameter of the mother’s cervix and you have been through rapid labor in your last pregnancy. One major problem during rapid labor could be that the baby is delivered in an unsterilized and non-sanitized environment.

    The mother could be at risk as well because the intense contractions and hurried delivery can cause a vaginal tear or postpartum shock.

    Fetal distress

    As the term suggests, fetal distress could be because the baby is not doing well and has a weak heartbeat, movement issues, didn’t start to cry or breathe, or low levels of amniotic fluid. This may be because of a lot of factors, like pregnancy hypertension, mother’s anemia, and inadequate oxygen levels.

    Fetal distress often occurs in mothers that have late labor, for example in 41 to 42 weeks, Meconium Aspiration, where the baby’s feces gets swallowed/aspirated by him/her, may occur. Some ways to counter this are by shifting the mother’s position, regulating the mother’s oxygen levels, and increasing hydration. Vaginal deliveries are not an option during fetal distress and C-section would be the only way to go. The most important thing to do is to prepare life-saving equipment before delivery that the Pediatrician and nurse may use in case of fetal distress.

    CPD or Cephalopelvic Disproportion

    On the list of labor complications is CPD. This is when the baby’s head is too big to pass through the mother’s pelvis. This can be due to various reasons like if the mother has developed gestational diabetes, or the mother’s pelvis has always been small for the baby’s head, or if the baby is in a different position than usual.

    One of the remedies for this includes keeping weight gain under check during pregnancy. Another one could be to exercise regularly. Prenatal yoga is one form beneficial for pregnancies like these. A C-section is usually done in a case like this.

    Placenta previa

    This is a condition where the placenta covers the opening of the cervix. It is also known as a low-lying placenta. It could be because of various reasons like if the mother is above the age of 35 if the mother has a history of three or more pregnancies, previous C-sections, and if the mother has fibroids.

    This, however, is a rare occurrence but should be taken care of immediately or it can lead to heavy blood loss.

    Nuchal cord

    This means that the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. While this is not always a dangerous situation, if the baby’s heart rate does not go up with the mother’s contractions, then an immediate delivery might be required.

    The baby could experience stress because of this. Both vaginal delivery and a C-section are suitable options here, but it is completely dependent on how dilated the mother is or if the baby is in a reachable stage.

    Low birth weight

    Hypertension is one of the most common factors that can cause low birth weight in infants. It can also occur when the mother has been an alcoholic, did not have proper food during her pregnancy, used drugs, or smoked. Since the baby feeds on what the mother eats, he/she could be underweight during birth.

    Low birth weight babies are exposed to many conditions later like respiratory problems, heart infections, blindness, and learning defects.

    Prolonged labor

    If labor is delayed beyond the normal 6-18 hours to 20-22 hours, it is known as prolonged labor. This is because of different issues that can cause delays, like if the baby’s head is too big for the pelvis, slow dilation, multiple babies, and emotional triggers like the fear of going through childbirth.

    Umbilical cord prolapse

    The umbilical cord is how the baby gets his/her oxygen, nutrition supply, and blood supply. Sometimes, the cord comes out of the birth canal and you can see it protruding from the vagina.

    This requires immediate attention as the baby’s supply of oxygen and nutrients through blood supply is in danger of disruption. The doctor will try to repair this as soon as possible.


    One of the common labor complications is malposition. It can happen due to breech positions, like if the baby’s buttocks or feet emerge first rather than the head, or if the baby is sideways of the uterus rather than in a vertical position.

    Malposition also includes the above-mentioned conditions like if the umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck, or comes out from the birth canal, or is compressed. To tackle malposition, C-section, forceps delivery, or even a manual position change by the doctor can be proposed.

    Key Takeaways

    Pregnancy is considered to be very special for a woman. While moms-to-be prepare for childbirth, they usually like to read a lot about pregnancy in general. This helps them understand their body during the phase better.

    It also helps a mother understand what to expect when her baby enters the world. Though, pregnancy can be different for every mother, trying to know things in general, is a good approach. However, it is not only the good and happy things that you should know but also what could possibly go wrong and how not to panic in that situation.

    Every mom-to-be should know about the above labor complications and try to do her bit to avoid them if possible. If not, don’t worry, your doctor is there to take care of such situations that may arise at any given point.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS

    Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 07, 2022

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