Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

Even if you’re healthy and well prepared for labour and giving birth, there’s always a chance of labour complications.

Even if you’re healthy and well prepared for labour and giving birth, there’s always a chance of labour complications.
beginning of content

Labour complications

5-minute read

Even if you’re healthy and well prepared for labour and giving birth, there’s always a chance of unexpected difficulties.

Slow progress of labour

Your doctor or midwife can tell how labour is progressing by checking how much the cervix has opened and how far the baby has dropped. If your cervix is opening slowly, or the contractions have slowed down or stopped, your midwife or doctor may say that your labour isn’t progressing. It’s good if you can relax and stay calm – anxiety can slow things down more. Ask what you and your support person can do to get things going.

The midwife or doctor may suggest some of the following:

  • change to a position you’re comfortable in
  • walk around – movement can help the baby to move further down, and encourage contractions
  • a warm shower or bath
  • a back rub
  • have a nap to regain your energy
  • have something to eat or drink.

If progress continues to be slow your midwife or doctor may suggest inserting an intravenous drip with Syntocinon to make your contractions more effective. If you’re tired or uncomfortable, you may want to ask about options for pain relief.

When the baby is in an unusual position

Most babies are born headfirst, but some are in positions that may complicate labour and the birth.

Posterior position

This means the baby’s head enters the pelvis facing your front instead of your back. This can mean a longer labour with more backache. Most babies will turn around during labour, but some don’t. If a baby doesn’t turn, you may be able to push it out yourself or the doctor may need to turn the baby’s head and/or help it out with either forceps or a vacuum pump. You can help by getting down on your hands and knees and rotating or rocking your pelvis - this may also help ease the backache.

Breech birth

This is when a baby presents bottom or feet first. In Australia about 3-4% of babies are in the breech position by the time labour starts. Sometimes a procedure called ‘external cephalic version’ will be discussed – this is where a doctor gently turns the baby in late pregnancy by placing their hands on your abdomen and gently coaxing the baby around so it can be born headfirst. This turning is done at around 36 weeks, using ultrasound to help see the baby, cord and placenta.

The baby and the mother are monitored during the procedure to make sure everything is ok. There’s a small risk that turning the baby may tangle the cord or separate the placenta from the uterus. This is why the procedure is done in hospital, in case an emergency caesarean is needed.

Your midwife or doctor will discuss with you the best way of managing a breech labour and birth. If the baby is still in the breech position at the end of pregnancy, a caesarean may be recommended.

Multiple pregnancy

When there is more than one baby, labour may be preterm. When the last baby has been born, the placenta (or placentas) is expelled in the usual way. If the babies are premature, they are likely to need extra care at birth and for a few days or weeks afterwards.

At term, you may be induced if your babies are in the correct position. Often the obstetrician will suggest that you have an epidural. This is because after the first twin is born the second twin can get in an unusual position and the obstetrician may need to manoeuvre the second twin into position for birth.

Read more on having a multiple birth.

Concern about the baby’s condition

Sometimes there may be concerns that the baby is distressed during labour. Signs include:

  • a faster, slower or unusual pattern to the baby’s heartbeat
  • a bowel movement by the baby (seen as a greenish-black fluid called 'meconium' in the fluid around the baby).

If a baby is not coping well, its heart rate will usually be monitored. If necessary, the baby will be delivered as soon as possible with vacuum or forceps (or perhaps by caesarean).

Postpartum haemorrhage

Postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) is a complication that can occur after a baby is born. PPH is uncommon. Losing some blood during childbirth is considered normal. PPH is excessive bleeding from the vagina after the birth.

To help prevent PPH, you will be offered an injection of Syntocinon as your baby is being born, which stimulates contractions and helps to push the placenta out.

Your midwife will check your uterus regularly after the birth to make sure that it is firm and contracting. Postpartum haemorrhage can cause a number of complications and may mean a longer stay in hospital.

Learn more about postpartum haemorrhage here.

Retained placenta

Occasionally the placenta doesn’t come away after the baby is born, so the doctor needs to remove it promptly. This is usually done with an epidural or a general anaesthetic in theatre.

Learn more about a retained placenta here.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

Breech pregnancy

When a baby is positioned bottom-down late in pregnancy, this is called the breech position. Find out about 3 main types and safe birthing options.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Breech Presentation at the End of your Pregnancy

Breech presentation occurs when your baby is lying bottom first or feet first in the uterus (womb) rather than the usual head first position. In early pregnancy, a breech position is very common.

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Breech presentation and turning the baby

In preparation for a safe birth, your health team will need to turn your baby if it is in a bottom first ‘breech’ position.

Read more on WA Health website

External Cephalic Version for Breech Presentation - Pregnancy and the first five years

This information brochure provides information about an External Cephalic Version (ECV) for breech presentation

Read more on NSW Health website

Presentation and position of baby through pregnancy and at birth

Presentation and position refer to where your baby’s head and body is in relation to your birth canal. Learn why it’s important for labour and birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website


Malpresentation is when your baby is in an unusual position as the birth approaches. Sometimes it’s possible to move the baby, but a caesarean maybe safer.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Caesarean birth (C-section)

Caesarean (C-section) is an operation to give birth to a baby, which may be planned or an emergency. Find out why it might be needed.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Birth injury (to the baby)

Giving birth in Australia is very safe, but sometimes during birth, the baby suffers an injury. Learn about birth injury causes, types and treatments.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Caesarean Section

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.