What Are The Signs Of Obstructed Labour?

What Are The Signs Of Obstructed Labour?

When labour is prolonged, bacteria will penetrate the foetal side of the placenta.

Childbirth is a unique experience for every woman, whether you're a first-time mom or a longtime parent. Sometimes, the baby comes really fast. Other times, well, not so fast. How quickly your bundle of joy arrives depends on many things, including how fast labour is happening. Your doctor will rely on certain signs of obstructed labour to determine what is going on during prolonged labour. As you know, labour is a series of intense, repeated muscle contractions. The contractions help push the baby out of the uterus (womb) and into the birth canal. You will probably feel the contractions in the lower back and belly area. These are called labour pains. The contractions help dilate (widen) the opening to the vagina (called the cervix). This allows your baby to move out of your body and be born.
First-time moms are usually in labour for about 12 to 18 hours, on average. If you've had a baby before, labour usually goes more quickly, usually about half that amount of time. What is obstructed labour? Obstructed labour, also known as labour dystocia, is when the baby does not exit the pelvis during childbirth. This may be due to the uterus being physically blocked, despite contracting normally.It increases your risk of getting an infection during childbirth, having uterine rupture, or having postpartum bleeding. Long term complications for the mother include obstetrical fistula. Obstructed labour results in prolonged labour, when the active phase of labour is longer than twelve hours.Africa has the highest maternal mortality in the world, estimated at an average of about 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births.  Obstructed labour is one of the major causes of these deaths. It is also the leading cause of uterine ruptures worldwide.

What are the signs of obstructed labour?

signs of obstructed labour

When you're having lengthy labour that doesn't seem to bring the baby out; your doctor will look out for some signs that point to an obstructed labour, or labour dystocia. Some of them are:

  • prolonged labour
  • frequent and strong uterine contractions
  • signs of maternal distress such as exhaustion, high temperature ( 38C), and a rapid pulse
  • some signs of dehydration like dry tongue and cracked lips
  • dry and hot vagina
  • fully or partially dilated cervix
  • uterine rupture

Causes of Obstructed Labour

uterine rupture

The main causes of obstructed labour include:

  • a baby that is large or abnormally positioned
  • a small pelvis, and problems with the birth canal.

Both the size and the position of the foetus can lead to obstructed labour. An example of an abnormally positioned baby is shoulder dystocia, where the baby's shoulder does not easily pass below your pubic bone.

You can have a small pelvis for many reasons, but it is risky. Risk factors for a small pelvis include malnutrition and a lack of exposure to sunlight; causing vitamin D deficiency. A deficiency in calcium can also result in a small pelvis; as the structures of the pelvic bones will be weak due to the lack of calcium.

There is also a relationship between a mom's height and the size of her pelvis. Your doctor can use this to predict the possibility of obstructed labour. This relationship is a result of your nutritional health throughout your life leading up to childbirth. Younger mothers are also at more risk for obstructed labour due to the growth of the pelvis not being completed. Problems with the birth canal include a narrow vagina and perineum; this may be due to female genital mutilation or tumours. All of these factors lead to a failure in the progress of labour.


Your doctor will diagnose obstructed labour based on a physical examination. An ultrasound will reveal a baby that's not in the right position. Once labour has begun, all examinations are compared to regular cervical assessments. The comparison between your average cervical assessment and your current state allows for a diagnosis of obstructed labour. An increasingly long time in labour also indicates an issue that is preventing the foetus from exiting the womb.

signs of obstructed labour

Prevention And Treatment of Labour Dystocia

Access to proper health services will greatly reduce the risk of this condition. In Africa, where we have poor health care, it is important for women to eat healthy foods before and during pregnancy. Awareness and educational programmes about reproduction and family planning will go a long way to help prevent obstructed labour.

A caesarean section is the most popular way to treat this condition. But before your doctor considers surgery, he may want to try changing your posture during labour. Sometimes, this helps to progress labour. Caesarean section is an invasive treatment; but it is often the only method that will save the lives of both the mother and the baby.

Symphysiotomy is when doctors surgically open the symphysis pubis. It is faster than a Caesarean and you won't need anaesthesia. But this is only an option when there's less advanced technology. This procedure also leaves no scars on the uterus which makes further pregnancies and births safer for the mother.

Another important part of treating obstructed labour is monitoring your energy and hydration during labour. Contractions of the uterus require energy, so the longer you're in labour the more energy you expend. When you're weak, your contractions become weaker and labour will become increasingly longer.

Antibiotics are also an important treatment as an infection is a possible result of obstructed labour.


Also read: Here's Everything You Should Know About A Uterine Rupture

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