Types of Labor Complication: Preterm, Miscarriages and Stillbirths

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  • 0:01 Preterm Births
  • 2:49 Miscarriages
  • 4:06 Stillbirths
  • 5:02 Induction
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Along with the joys of finding out you or a loved one is pregnant also comes lots of new words and things to learn. This lesson will help introduce you to some of the terms concerning labor that you or your loved one might hear as you talk with your doctor or read all those baby pamphlets.

Preterm Births

Okay, so you may not be there yet, but one day you may be expecting a new baby! And with that new baby you will have lots of things to buy and, of course, lots of doctor's appointments. Your doctor may use lots of new words that you may not be familiar with. Words like preterm labor, spontaneous abortion or miscarriage, and induction. But, what do those words mean? Our goal here is to help you understand some of those new words.

Now, I'm sure that many of you already know that a baby takes nine months (or 40 weeks) to fully develop, and at the end of this nine months we have the miracle of birth! But unfortunately, not all babies reach full term. A baby is considered to be full term if it develops inside the mother for 39-40 weeks.

But, if our mother goes into labor before the baby is 39 weeks old, she may be in either early or preterm labor. Preterm labor is when true labor occurs before the fetus has completed normal development. Any baby born more than three weeks before his or her due date can be considered a premature baby.

It's pretty easy to remember if you break down the word. Can you think of other instances where you use the prefix 'pre-'? Maybe 'preview', like a movie preview? This comes out before the movie right? So the prefix 'pre-' means before. That should help you remember that preterm labor is labor before the baby is ready or before full term.

So what happens then? What does a mother in preterm labor do? Sometimes interventions, such as bed rest or medications, can help delay the birth of the baby. But what if these don't work? Don't worry, in these instances, the babies are often cared for in the hospital the first few weeks of life to ensure that they are well nourished and healthy.

But just how much care does a premature baby need? That all depends on how early the baby was born. Let's think about it . . . the older a baby is, the more time they had in the womb to develop…right? And the more they weigh. So, the lower the baby's weight at birth, the more care it will need. This is because premature babies may not have completed full organ development and are at a greater risk for:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Infections
  • Feeding problems

And the good news? With all our medical advances, over 75% of babies born after 26 weeks survive!


But what if our mother enters preterm labor really early on in her pregnancy? If preterm labor occurs around week 20 or earlier then she may be having a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. This is when termination of the pregnancy occurs prior to week 20. It's called spontaneous, because it was not a planned abortion or miscarriage. And if you are having trouble remembering miscarriage just remember it like this: a miscarriage carries the baby out of the mother by mistake, because miscarriages occur early on, before the baby has finished developing.

So what causes this? Is it a random occurrence or something that could be prevented? Unfortunately, most natural miscarriages are out of the mother's control, because they are due to irregularities in the chromosomes, or the DNA of the baby, preventing it from developing normally. However, other potential causes can include:

  • Exposure to certain toxins and chemicals that result in abnormal development
  • Abnormal hormone levels in the mother
  • An abnormal structure of the uterus


And, while the survival chances of preemies born after 26 weeks are good, many miscarriages early on result in the birth of a stillbirth baby or a baby who died within the uterus and is born with no signs of life. Hence, they are still, or not moving, at birth. However, stillbirths can occur later in pregnancy as well. Some risk factors that may increase the chances of a stillbirth baby are:

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