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OB Guidelines Appendix C: About Your Care During Labor and Birth


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OB Guidelines Appendix C: About Your Care During Labor and Birth

Related to: Documentation, Informed Consent, Medication, Nursing, Obstetrics

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Having a baby is natural. Most mothers and babies go through it without serious problems. Even so, some situations may arise near the end of your pregnancy, or during labor. These can affect the care you or your baby may need.

Many of those situations are described below. Some common practices you might experience at the hospital are also described. Ask your doctor, midwife, or any nurse if you have questions.


  • A nurse will work with your doctor or midwife to take care of you. In some hospitals, doctors who are in training (residents)
    may also help care for you.

  • Other trainees may be involved in caring for you. Students are always supervised by your doctor, midwife, or a nurse.

  • You may have a blood test during labor.

  • A nurse may put a monitor on your belly to check your baby’s heartbeat. If it is normal, the monitor may be removed. The
    baby’s heartbeat will be checked again during your labor.

  • If your baby’s heartbeat needs to be checked more closely, you might wear a monitor for longer. Sometimes the baby’s
    heartbeat patterns cause concern, even when the baby is fine. These patterns can be hard to understand. Your chance of a
    cesarean or vaginal delivery with vacuum or forceps increases when your baby’s pattern raises a concern. Checking your baby’s heartbeat does not prevent cerebral palsy or birth defects.

  • Your doctor or midwife might place an electrode on your baby’s head before he or she is born. Very rarely, this can cause infection of the baby’s scalp.

  • Very rarely, a blood sample from the baby’s scalp is needed during labor. It is like having your finger pricked. Very rarely, the sample area will bleed or get infected.

  • Sometimes it is possible to change the baby’s heartbeat pattern. Your doctor or midwife can place a tube inside your womb and add fluid around the baby. This added fluid may take pressure off the umbilical cord during your labor.

  • You may have an intravenous line (IV) in your arm during labor. This is used to give you extra fluids, pain relief drugs, or

  • Pain you feel during labor can be relieved many ways. You might choose walking, a bath or shower, breathing, massage, or a combination. Your doctor or midwife can offer you other, safe choices:
    Medication: You get pain relief medication by needle (a “shot”) or through an IV line. You may get sleepy. Allergic reactions are rare.
    Epidural: A doctor places a thin tube in your back. This takes about 20 minutes. You can then get drugs through the tube that will relieve most of your labor pain.

  • If your labor slows down, your doctor or midwife might give you oxytocin through an IV to make your contractions stronger and closer together.

  • Your doctor or midwife may try to help you start (induce) labor. Some reasons for this are listed.

    • Your baby is overdue by more than a week or two.

    • Your baby has not grown well.

    • Infection

    • High blood pressure

    • Diabetes

    • Your water breaks.

    If your cervix is soft and stretchy, you may be given oxytocin through an IV. If your cervix is not ripe, you may get a
    prostaglandin medication to soften the cervix before using oxytocin.
  • Sometimes, your labor may be induced for non-medical reasons before your due date. Generally, this cannot be done before 39 weeks gestation because babies who deliver before then can have trouble breathing room air. Your baby must be able to breathe room air upon birth before your labor can be induced for non-medical reasons.

  • The risks of inducing labor include creating contractions that are too strong or frequent. This can stress the baby. This risk
    is usually manageable and the contractions can be decreased. An unsuccessful induction of labor can increase the risk of
    cesarean birth, especially if this is your first baby.

Vaginal Birth

  1. Labor contractions slowly open your cervix. When your cervix is completely open, contractions, along with your help, push the baby through the birth canal (vagina). Usually, the baby’s head comes out first, then the shoulders.

  2. About 10–15 percent of mothers need some help getting the baby through the birth canal. A doctor or midwife may apply
    a special vacuum cup or forceps (tongs) to your baby’s head. The doctor or midwife will then pull while your push the baby out.

  3. In approximately one percent of births, the shoulders do not come out easily. This is called shoulder dystocia. If this happens, your doctor or midwife will try to free the baby’s shoulders. Shoulder dystocia may cause a broken bone or nerve damage to the baby’s arm. Most often, these problems heal quickly. Shoulder dystocia may cause tears around your vaginal opening, and bleeding after birth.

  4. Many women get small tears around their vaginal opening. Sometimes a doctor or midwife will cut some vaginal tissue to make the opening bigger. This is called an episiotomy.

  5. Most women with tears or an episiotomy will need stitches. Your stitches will dissolve over a few weeks during healing.
    The area may be swollen and sore for a few days. Rarely, infection may occur. Infrequently, a tear or cut may extend to the rectum. Most often this heals with no problem.

  6. Normally, the placenta will come out soon after birth. If not, then the doctor or midwife must reach into the womb and remove the placenta. You may need anesthesia.

  7. All women lose some blood during childbirth. Some reasons you might lose a lot are listed.

    • The placenta doesn’t pass on its own,

    • You are having more than one baby, such as twins or triplets.

    • Your labor lasts a very long time.

  8. Oxytocin can help reduce bleeding after birth. If your bleeding is very heavy, you may be given other medications to help contract your uterus. Very few women need a blood transfusion after vaginal birth.

Cesarean Delivery

  1. About one third of mothers give birth by cesarean. Some are planned. Some are not.
  2. During cesarean birth, a doctor delivers the baby through an incision (cut) in your belly.
  3. The most common reasons you might need a cesarean follow.
    • Your cervix doesn’t open completely.
    • Your baby doesn’t move down the birth canal.
    • Your baby needs to be delivered quickly because of a problem for mother or baby.
    • Your baby is not in a position that allows for a vaginal delivery.
    • You delivered by cesarean before.
  4. Anesthesia is always used for a cesarean. Most cesareans are performed using regional anesthesia (spinal, epidural or combined spinal-epidural) so that the mother is awake during the delivery. Some are performed using general
    anesthesia and the mother is not awake during the delivery.
  5. You will lose more blood during a cesarean birth than during a vaginal birth. About 12 out of 1,000 mothers who have
    cesareans need a blood transfusion.
  6. Infection is more common after a cesarean. Your doctors may give you drugs to help prevent infection.
  7. A thin tube (catheter) will drain your bladder during a cesarean. It may remain in place for 12–24 hours afterwards.
  8. In less than one percent of cesareans, the mother’s bowel or urinary system is injured. Most of the time these problems are fixed during the surgery.
  9. In less than one percent of cesareans, the baby might be injured. Such injuries are usually minor.

After Birth

  1. Infection of the uterus (womb)

    • After a vaginal birth = 2–3 percent

    • After a cesarean birth = 20–30 percent.

    • Drugs (antibiotics) can lower the risk, but don’t guarantee you won’t get an infection.

  2. You may have cramps as your womb returns to its normal size. Cramping gets stronger with each birth. You may notice it more when breastfeeding.

  3. After a vaginal birth, you will probably have discomfort around your vaginal opening. After a cesarean birth, you will have pain from the incision. Ask your doctor or midwife for pain relief.

  4. Vaginal bleeding is normal after birth. It will lessen over 1 to 2 weeks. About one percent of women will need treatment for heavy bleeding. Sometimes, heavy bleeding can happen weeks after birth.

  5. Most women feel tired and may feel sad after birth. For about 10 percent of new mothers, these feelings of sadness linger or get worse. This may be postpartum depression. If this happens, ask your doctor or midwife for help.

  6. When you can leave the hospital will depend on your health, your baby’s health, and the help you have at home.


  1. At one minute, and again at 5 minutes after birth, your baby will be given Apgar scores. The scores are based on heart rate,
    breathing, skin and muscle tone, and vigor. Apgar scores help your pediatrician and the hospital staff care for your baby.

  2. About 3 to 4 percent of babies are born with birth defects. Many (for example, extra fingers or toes) do not hurt the
    baby. Some, such as some heart abnormalities, can be serious.

  3. Approximately 7 to 10 percent of babies are born prematurely, that is before the 38th week of pregnancy. Premature babies
    may require treatment in a special nursery or an intensive care unit. Some babies born after 37 weeks also may need special care.

  4. About 12 to 16 percent of babies pass meconium (the first bowel movement) into the amniotic fluid before delivery. If this occurs, your baby’s mouth and airway will be cleared as soon as possible after birth.

  5. After birth, your baby will be given eye ointment to prevent eye infections. Your baby will also get a Vitamin K shot to prevent bleeding. A few drops of blood from his or her heel are taken to screen your baby for some diseases. The results are sent to your pediatrician. Your baby’s hearing will be checked while in the hospital. You will be asked if you want your baby protected against hepatitis B before going home.

  6. Three to four of every 1,000 newborns have serious infections of their blood, lungs, and—in more rare cases—the brain and
    spine. You may be given drugs to protect your baby if:

    • You carry Group B Strep

    • You develop a fever during labor

    • Your membranes (bag of waters) are ruptured for a long time.

  7. If your baby is at risk, your pediatrician may order testing for infection. Your baby may also receive drugs to prevent infection.

Infrequent or Rare Events

The following problems occur infrequently or rarely during pregnancy:

  1. A baby is born too early to survive, or with serious medical problems.A baby may die inside the womb after 20 weeks gestation (stillbirth or fetal death); or a baby may die shortly after or within one month of birth.

  2. The mother develops blood clots in her legs after giving birth.This is more likely to occur after a cesarean than after a vaginal birth.

  3. The doctor must remove the mother’s uterus (hysterectomy) to stop heavy, uncontrollable bleeding.The woman cannot become pregnant again.

  4. The mother has a problem after a blood transfusion such as an allergic reaction, fever, or infection.The chance of contracting hepatitis (from a transfusion) is 1 in 100,000; the chance of contracting HIV is less than 1 in 1,000,000.

  5. The mother dies during childbirth (less than 1 in 10,000).Causes might include extremely severe bleeding, high blood pressure, blood clots in the lungs, and other medical conditions.


Most babies are born healthy. Most mothers go through labor and birth without serious problems. But pregnancy and childbirth do have some risks. Many of the possible problems are frightening, but most are uncommon.The most serious events are very rare.

Your health care team will do its best to identify any problems early and offer you treatment. Your team looks forward to caring for you and delivering a healthy baby.


 << Appendix B             Web Guideline Home Page              Appendix D >>

May 1, 2014
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