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Dystocia
(Difficult Labor)
Dystocia is an abnormal, slow, or difficult labor or
childbirth in humans or other animals. This occurs in
about 1 of 5 labor and deliveries. In some cases of
dystocia, there is a prolonged second stage of labor in
which the fetus has still not been delivered after three
hours in a woman with a fully dilated (widened) cervix
who has never given birth before or after two hours in a
woman who has given birth multiple times before. The
cervix is a small, cylinder-shaped organ that forms the
lower part and neck of the uterus. A fetus is a
developing human that is inside the mother from the end
of the 8th week to birth. The uterus is a hollow organ in
a female's body where the egg is implanted and the
fetus develops.
 
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There are many reasons dystocia can occur such as a blockage or narrowing of the birth
passage, abnormal size, position, shape, or condition of the fetus, an incoordinated
uterus, or (rarely) a massive tumor on the baby. The risk for dystocia increases when
pregnant for the first time, when a long time elapses between pregnancies, and when
having multiple births simultaneously (e.g., twins, triplets). If the uterus is not coordinated
well, dystocia is treated with a medication known as oxytocin ( a type of hormone that
facilitates childbirth). Assistance is often needed from the outside to also facilitate birth in
cases of dystocia. This includes use of forceps, vacuum suction, and a Caesarian
section.
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A C-section is when the belly and uterus are cut open so that the
fetus can be delivered through the belly. In the worst cases
scenario, the baby can die due to dystocia. Other complications for
the fetus includes difficulty breathing and hypoxic ischemic
encephalopathy (HIE), HIE is permanent brain injury caused by a
lack of oxygen or below normal levels of blood flow to the brain.
Damage to the brachial plexus (a major nerve in the spine that goes
to the arms) can also occur. This typically occurs due to shoulder
dystocia, in which the front part of the infantís shoulder cannot pass
through the birth canal or requires significant manipulation by health
care providers to move below the birth canal than what will be
achieved by gentle downward pulling of the head.
The opposite of dystocia is eutochia (normal pregnancy). Dystocia is more commonly known as difficult
labor, abnormal labor, dysfunctional labor, abnormal childbirth, or difficult childbirth. When dystochia
occurs to reptiles and birds it is known as egg binding. Dystocia comes from the Greek word "dys"
meaning "difficult," and the Greek word "tokos" meaning "childbirth." Put the words together and you have
"difficult childbirth."