Labour is the process of birth, from the first strong contractions of the uterus to the delivery of the baby and placenta. Labour may last up to 24 hours for a first pregnancy but tends to be shorter in subsequent pregnancies. In most cases, the stages of labour progress smoothly. When problems do occur, they are rarely serious if they are identified and treated promptly.
Improvements in monitoring and more effective pain relief have made labour a safer and much less traumatic experience than it once was. In the past, little relief was available to help mothers cope with the extreme pain of a difficult labour, and complications often threatened the life of the mother or baby, or sometimes both.
The first article in this section looks at abnormal presentation, a condition in which the fetus is not lying in the normal position in the uterus, the easiest position for delivery. Problems that may complicate labour and delivery, usually because the fetus is unable to pass through the mother’s pelvis, are covered next.
Two relatively rare conditions are discussed in the final part of this section. Fetal distress arises when the fetus is deprived of sufficient oxygen for its needs. This condition may occur at any stage of pregnancy, but is more common during labour. The final article discusses stillbirth, a rare and distressing situation that occurs when a fetus dies in the womb later than 20 weeks into a pregnancy or, even more rarely, when a baby dies during labour.
For more information on pregnancy and the stages of childbirth, see Pregnancy and Childbirth.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.