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Complications of Childbirth

Birth often cannot proceed normally because of a defect of the cervix or weak uterine contractions; breech births, in which the feet or buttocks emerge first, and transverse births, in which the child is positioned across the uterus, usually require obstetrical intervention, such as forceps delivery, manually turning the baby, or performing a cesarean section. About 10% of pregnancies terminate in deliveries that are too early, producing (after at least 200 days of gestation) premature infants requiring special care. Birth of a fetus prior to about 200 days of gestation is termed a miscarriage; birth within the first three months, an abortion. Stillbirth is the delivery of a dead child.

Complications of childbirth affecting the newborn include infant blindness attributable to gonorrhea infection, now largely eliminated by routine administration of silver nitrate to the eyes; retrolental fibroplasia, a type of blindness common for some years in premature infants that was found to result from administration of high concentrations of oxygen and is now largely avoided; and erythroblastosis fetalis, or Rh disease, which can often be prevented. Puerperal fever, an infection of the mother's genital tract once common following labor and delivery, has now also been largely eliminated by preventive hygiene, especially in labor, and by antibiotic therapy.

See pregnancy; obstetrics.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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