Childbirth is widely considered one of life’s most amazing, yet frightening, experiences. The excitement and joy that comes with the prospect of bringing a new child into the world often comes with the anticipation of pain. While the pain of labor and delivery is something that’s widely discussed, there are other factors, such as maternal birth injuries, that new mothers are often unaware of. A birth injury, depending on the type, can range from minor discomfort to long-lasting pain or changes to certain bodily functions. For some, the consequences of these injuries may have a mild impact that affects them for only a few days, or they may be long-lasting, with pain or discomfort that stays with them for years. In some extreme cases, the impact of a birth injury may even cause a new mother or family to consider consulting a lawyer. For this reason, it’s important that expecting mothers understand what can happen to their bodies when they deliver a baby either naturally or by cesarean section.
During childbirth, a baby’s head may encounter difficulties that can cause a tear in the vaginal area. This may happen when the vagina does not easily stretch to accommodate the baby’s head. Tears may also be caused by births that happen too quickly, the baby’s positioning, forceps-assisted deliveries, or being overweight. There are four degrees of tears, ranging from mild to severe. Some tears, only involve the perineal skin, which is the skin between the vaginal opening and the rectum. The tissue just beneath the perineal skin may also be torn, but stitches are not always required. Other lacerations involve tearing of the muscle as well and may extend down to the anus, the anal sphincter, or even the rectum. The greater the tear, the more likely it is that surgical repair will be required. These types of lacerations are not uncommon: Roughly 95 percent of women experience some degree of tearing when they deliver their first child. Additional problems that can stem from this type of injury include urinary and fecal incontinence and painful sexual intercourse.
Some women may experience bone injuries as a result of childbirth. A fractured coccyx or separated pubic symphysis are both examples of this type of problem. With a separated pubic symphysis, the baby’s head may cause the pubic symphysis, which is the section of cartilage where the left and right bones of the pelvic girdle connect, to separate, causing a gap. This can cause pain and discomfort that may last as little as two months but can take as long as eight months to heal. With a fractured coccyx, the mother’s tailbone may fracture or bruise as a result of pressure from the baby’s head during delivery.
A uterine rupture is a rare condition that can happen before or during labor and delivery. This may occur when a baby is abnormally large and the strain causes a uterine scar from a previous C-section to rupture during a vaginal delivery, or it may happen as a result of trauma. When the uterus tears, the baby, the placenta, or both may go into the abdominal cavity of the mother. This can cause a number of additional complications, ranging from urologic injury to hemorrhaging to even death.
Uterine inversion is a serious problem in which the placenta remains attached to the uterus, and upon its exit from the body, it tugs the uterus out with it, pulling it inside-out. This can lead to fatal hemorrhaging or shock. There are several grades of inversion, ranging from incomplete to total inversion. To treat this type of complication, the doctor has several options, which include manually reinserting the uterus, abdominal surgery, or an emergency hysterectomy, which may be necessary if the mother is at high risk of death.
Nerve damage is another complication that mothers often don’t think of before childbirth. Mothers can suffer from a range of problems depending on the nerves that are damaged. Injury to the femoral nerves can cause one to suffer from weakness or numbness in the legs that makes it difficult to feel or move them. Incontinence is another problem that stems from nerve damage, happening when pelvic and pudendal nerves are injured during delivery. Damage to one’s nerves may be caused when they are compressed during delivery or when tissue is stretched.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pregnancy and vaginal delivery may both contribute to prolapsed pelvic organs such as a prolapsed uterus. A prolapsed uterus occurs when the uterus slips down into the vagina because pregnancy, delivery, or both have weakened the pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic prolapse can occur with other pelvic organs as well, such as the bladder. The severity is defined in stages that range from 0 to 4. With a stage 4 prolapse, the organ will have slipped outside of the body entirely.
- The Risks of Birth by Cesarean Section
- Problems After Childbirth
- Millions of Women Are Injured During Childbirth
- Childbirth and Incontinence: Things You Should Know
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Bladder Control
- Prolapsed Uterus After Childbirth: What You Need to Know
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Uterine Inversion
- Pregnancy Complications: Uterine Inversion
- Uterine Inversion (video)
- Uterine Rupture: What Family Physicians Need to Know
- Birth Complications: Uterine Rupture
- Medical Definition of Uterine Rupture
- Uterine Rupture
- Study Confirms Risk During Delivery After C-Section
- Risks of a Cesarean Procedure
- Postpartum Hemorrhage (PPH)
- Vaginal Tears in Childbirth
- Vaginal Tearing During Childbirth: What You Need to Know
- The Truth About Your Vagina Tearing During Childbirth
- After Childbirth: Pelvic Bone Problems
- Pelvic Bone Problems After Childbirth
- The Scary Truth About Childbirth
- Yes, You Can Break Your Tailbone During Labor