Birth Definitions

Complications Definition


The term “complications” is used in the pregnancy and birthing industry to describe a wide variety of potential problems that can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. While some complications are minor and pose no threat to the mother or child, others can be life-threatening. The most common complications include labor that does not progress, abnormal heart rate of the baby, water breaking early, infection, perineal tears, shoulder dystocia, perinatal asphyxia, bleeding,  hypertension, and diabetes.

Labor fails to progress when cervical contractions weaken, or when cervical dilation is insufficient or untimely. This prevents the descent of the infant in the birth canal. Abnormal infant heart rate occurs usually when there is a condition that causes the baby stress or abnormal blood flow. Water breaking early (before the 34th week of pregnancy) or if labor does not follow within 24 hours of the water breaking is a complication that has to be closely monitored for the possibility of an infection. Infection can occur before or after childbirth and affect both the mother and the baby. Perineal tears are tears that can happen in the vaginal or surrounding tissues during delivery. This could be due to several reasons such as the baby being too large for its gestational age or the vagina not being able to stretch easily. When the baby is too large, or if the cervix or vagina is not dilated enough, shoulder dystocia can occur where the baby’s shoulder will become dislocated. Perinatal asphyxia is also another complication where the fetus in the uterus or the infant during labor, delivery or just after birth, does not get enough oxygen. Bleeding can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, or the postpartum period. Hypertension (high blood pressure) can develop during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition that can develop during pregnancy.

While most complications are relatively rare, they can nonetheless cause significant morbidity and mortality. For this reason, it is important for pregnant women and their families to be aware of the potential for complications and to seek medical care early if any problems arise.

Related Terms

Terms related to the would complications include:

  • Bleeding: hemorrhage, hematoma, blood loss
  • Infection: sepsis, puerperal sepsis, wound infection
  • Hypertension: preeclampsia, eclampsia, gestational hypertension
  • Diabetes mellitus: gestational diabetes, diabetic ketoacidosis

This image shows how often the term ‘Complications’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:

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