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Medical Risks of Childbirth

Continuing a pregnancy and bringing it to a full-term delivery is usually a safe, healthy process. However, medical risks and death can occur. The most common complications of pregnancy include ectopic pregnancy, high blood pressure, complicated delivery, premature labor, depression, infection, diabetes and hemorrhage (heavy bleeding). According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of dying as a direct result of pregnancy and childbirth is less than 10 in every 100,000 births. The risk is higher for African-American women (22 in every 100,000). Medical risks and death can occur while a woman is pregnant, during labor and after the delivery.

Together, these causes account for less than one death per 100,000 relating to a woman’s pregnancy. Unknown or uncommon causes account for the remaining 20% of deaths relating to pregnancy. Women who have chronic severe diseases are at greater risk of death than healthy women.

For women who smoke: Smoking has been associated with a number of pregnancy complications. One is an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy wherein the embryo becomes implanted in a fallopian tube or other abnormal site instead of the uterus. Cigarette smoking also appears to double a woman’s risk of developing placental complications. These include placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta is attached too low in the uterus and covers part or all of the cervix and placental abruption, in which the placenta separates from the uterine wall before delivery. Smoking during pregnancy also increases the risk of stillbirth, miscarriage and severe vaginal bleeding.

Medical risks can also rise while a pregnant woman is in labor and after the baby’s birth. Labor occurs when a pregnant woman’s uterus contracts and pushes or delivers the baby from her body. The baby may be delivered through the woman’s vagina or by caesarean section. A caesarean section is a surgical procedure.

Of the approximately 4 million births occurring annually in the United States, 40% are complicated by some form of a postpartum mood disorder.

Less than one death per 100,000 relating to a woman's pregnancy.

Vaginal Delivery - Possible medical risks

  • Injury to the bladder or rectum.

  • A hole (fistula) between the bladder and vagina or the rectum and vagina.

  • Hemorrhage (heavy bleeding).

  • Difficulty with future pregnancies.

  • Emergency treatment for any of the above problems.

  • Rarely, death.

Cesarean Delivery - Possible medical risks

  • Injury to the bowel or bladder.

  • Difficulty with future pregnancies.

  • Hemorrhage (heavy bleeding).

  • A possible hysterectomy due to complications or injury from the procedure.

  • Emergency treatment for any of the above problems.

  • Rarely, death.

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