Rarer complications

A few women experienced very unusual complications in pregnancy, sometimes with a risk of stillbirth.

Obstetric cholestatsis

One rare complication in later pregnancy is obstetric cholestasis, a problem with the mother's liver. The only obvious symptom may be that the woman's skin feels uncomfortably itchy, which makes it difficult to diagnose. One mother was told she had an allergic reaction and it took a while before anyone realised it was obstetric cholestasis. When the condition was diagnosed, she was offered an induction of labour within a few days. With hindsight she felt she could have asked for more tests earlier, and suggested there should be more information in pregnancy books about the condition.

Another woman with the condition was diagnosed very quickly, but was shocked to be sent home on the bus with information that said she could be at risk of stillbirth. She rang the hospital when she got home and was reassured, but had to wait over a bank holiday weekend for another appointment. After that she was checked every day and booked for an induction at 38 weeks, but went into labour spontaneously two days before the induction.

(For more information see The British Liver Trust and NHS Choices).

Vasa praevia

Another, very rare condition is vasa praevia, in which one or more blood vessels from the placenta or umbilical cord lies across the entrance to the birth canal (the cervix), beneath the baby. Often the condition is not detected until labour begins, when the blood vessel may rupture. This can prove fatal to the baby, as a mother who had the condition explained.

She had been booked for an induction. The condition was discovered when staff broke her waters and suddenly there was a lot of blood. She had an emergency caesarean, which was frightening, but it all happened so quickly there was no time to ask questions. The baby needed resuscitation immediately after birth and there were concerns for a long time that she might have brain damage. (She is now five and developing normally). See also 'When something is wrong with the baby'.

Because vasa praevia is very rare, this mother was very concerned that other women and health professionals should be better informed about it. She devotes considerable time to raising awareness. The International Vasa Praevia Foundation and UK Vasa Praevia awareness websites can provide more information.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2010.


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