Giving birth can be a daunting experience for any woman. Whether it is your first time to give birth or you're basically a pro, the complications that can arise may be different from one labor and delivery to the next. Everyone will have a different birth story, and the complications that you could encounter may seem scary, but the joy you'll experience after it's all said and done will make it worth it. These nine problems that can happen during birth seem shocking, but are actually normal are just a few things you might encounter when it comes time to meet your new baby.
In order to ease fears when it comes to understanding these issues that might arise during birth, Jenn Simms, a doula practicing in Austin, Texas, tells Romper that preparation is key. "I always suggest to do your research and look at all of your options. Get a plan that works for you and your birth partner and stick to your plan as long as it's medically safe," she says. Her most vital piece of advice for birth — "Listen to your body because no one knows what you're feeling but you."
If you are worried about pooping on the table, experiencing a perineal tear, or pushing for hours on end, you can rest assured knowing that you are in good company with the many women who also experience these totally normal (albeit, scary) birth issues.
1. Pushing For Hours
When it comes time to push during labor, understanding that you may be in for quite a long haul is imperative. Not only are all labors not just a few short pushes, but according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it is completely normal for the pushing stage to last three or more hours, especially in first-time moms. While this is not necessarily a complication, it is an issue that might come as an unexpected surprise when you've already been in labor a long time.
"TV and movies would have us all believe that labor begins with the water breaking, quickly followed by fast and furious contractions and a rush to the hospital because birth is imminent. That is very, very rarely the route birth takes, especially when it is your first baby. Many people are shocked that normal labor can take 12-24 hours or even much longer," Megan Davidson, a Brooklyn-based doula and author of the book Your Birth Plan tells Romper.
2. Epidural Failure
In one study of more than 19,000 births where epidurals were used published in the International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia, the failure rate for epidurals was 12 percent. While this number is not alarmingly high, it is worth taking note that an epidural that you receive during labor may not work correctly. This could be due to a myriad of reasons including incorrect needle placement, poor timing of the delivery of the epidural, or your body's reaction to the medication being delivered.
3. Temporary Fetal Distress
During my own first birth experience, my son experienced distress due to low amniotic fluid. I had been laboring for hours with little-to-no progression and did not have an adequate amount of amniotic fluid left after the amniotic sac was ruptured to sustain him for so many hours. According to the Children's Minnesota Hospital, baby can have trouble breathing if there's not enough amniotic fluid to breathe into their lungs and strengthen them.
Other potential complications that could cause your baby brief distress, but are common, are decreased heart rate and umbilical cord issues. In most cases, babies can still be delivered normally despite these complications, according to Dr. Marjorie Greenfield in an interview with Parents. These can happen during the course of contractions as blood flow is constricted momentarily, or the cord could become wrapped around part of your baby's body.
4. Passing Of All. The. Bodily. Fluids.
While it may be embarrassing, smelly, or even uncomfortable, you may vomit or poop while pushing. "Pooping and vomiting during labor is super normal," Simms says. "Your whole body is expelling a human being and your whole body is contracting. So your organs and all bodily functions are being tightened and strained."
Davidson notes that bleeding and mucus are also common. "In the course of normal labor, many very normal things can feel distressing or concerning, especially when you don’t know they are normal," she says. "It can be very normal to have some bleeding, to pass mucus, to throw up, to feel shaky, to use the bathroom repeatedly, and more.
5. Being Super Puffy The Next Day
I experienced this phenomenon with my first labor and delivery. My feet and ankles swelled up to double their size the day after delivering my son and did not return to normal until a few days later. The swelling was due to excess fluids being given to prevent dehydration during labor, as well as to keep me hydrated after my emergency C-section. My doctor assured me that this was a normal occurrence after a long labor. A report by Healthline suggests that some women can even experience edema in their face and hands due to excess fluids being pushed through their body during delivery.
6. Baby Is Malpositioned
"Breech births are actually becoming way more common and there are actually three different types of breech positions," Simms says. According to the ACOG, approximately 3 to 4% of all full-term births will have breech presentation.
Even though malpositioning may be common, Simms tells Romper that "there are also non-invasive ways to get baby to move down and in the right position" so it is important to understand and explore your options with your birthing team if your baby is malpositioned.
7. Failure To Progress
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a woman who is termed with stalled labor or failure to progress has labored for more than 20 hours. The study also reports that stalled labor is responsible for approximately one-third of all cesarean deliveries. Having labored for nearly 21 hours with my oldest son and having an emergency C-section in hour 22, I suppose I am one of the one-third accounted for in the study. This complication, although rough to experience first-hand, is common.
8. Perineal Tearing
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 53 and 79 percent of vaginal births will experience some degree of perineal laceration. "Perineal tearing is sometimes not preventable, but there are measures you can take to help," Simms says. "You can use oil and do stretches with yours and your partner's fingers. Oil and warm cloths during pushing also help."
9. Rapid Labor
According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, a rapid labor is defined as a labor which lasts less than three hours from the start of contractions to the delivery of the placenta, and it can happen, but that doesn't mean that you won't make it to the hospital in time or that you're doomed to have your baby in your car. "The first birth I attended lasted only 28 minutes from the start of active labor to the baby arriving. It was so fast that the placenta didn't detach, so she was given Pitocin to get it to come out after birth," Simms says.
Megan Davidson, Brooklyn-based doula and author of the book Your Birth Plan
Pan PH, Bogard TD, Owen MD. (2004) Incidence and characteristics of failures in obstetric neuraxial analgesia and anesthesia: a retrospective analysis of 19,259 deliveries. International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15477051.
Shunji, S. (2015) Clinical Significance of Precipitous Labor. Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4285060/.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version