Women's Health USA 2007
Photographs of women's faces
Health Status > Maternal Health
Obstetrical Procedures and Complications of Labor and Delivery

There are a number of complications that can arise and procedures that can occur during labor and delivery. In 2004, repair of a current obstetric laceration and cesarean section were the two most common obstetrical procedures among women aged 15–44 years, according to hospital discharge data (occurring during 99.4 and 98.7 hospital stays per 10,000 women, respectively). Other common procedures were artificial rupture of membranes, also known as “breaking the waters” (75.2 per 10,000), episiotomy, which is a surgical cut to the perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening (53.3 per 10,000), and medical induction of labor (45.9 per 10,000). The rate of induction of labor was twice the 1990 rate, while the cesarean section rate increased 41 percent after a recent low in 1996.

Complications of labor and delivery can include moderate or heavy meconium, which occurs when the baby expels its first stool before being born; breech presentation or malpresentation, which occurs when the baby is in an abnormal position that may interfere with labor; tocolysis, which is the delaying of labor to avoid preterm birth; and precipitous labor, which is labor that takes less than 3 hours from beginning to end. Among childbearing women through age 54, moderate/heavy meconium is most common, occurring at a rate of 48.3 per 1,000 live births, followed by breech/malpresentation (41.6 per 1,000), tocolysis (19.8 per 1,000), and precipitous labor (19.2 per 1,000). There is some racial and ethnic disparity in the occurrence of these complications. Moderate/heavy meconium is most common among births to non-Hispanic Black women and breech/malpresentation occurs most frequently in births to non-Hispanic White women. Both tocolysis and precipitous labor occur less frequently among births to Hispanic women than in births to non-Hispanic White women and non-Hispanic Black women.


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Women's Health USA 2007 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2007. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.