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Complications Short Women Face During Pregnancy

By Shamila Rafat

Pregnancy is a very happy phase in a woman's life. The thought of you carrying a newborn which is soon to enter the world is both exhilarating as well as exciting. But the pain that come with the nine months of pregnancy can sure dampen your spirits.

A woman's body goes through a complete change during pregnancy. While it may be difficult for you to cope with the sudden changes your body is undergoing, you slowly get used to it and try to work your way around it. Also, with the information and technology available, it makes it easier for you to monitor the health of your baby and you.

Though with all the expertise sometimes, there are certain things that may be beyond your control.

Researchers have long studied the factors that complicate the pregnancy and delivery process in women. Among other factors such as lifestyle habits, nutrition and genetics, there is one factor that cannot be controlled - the mother's height. [1]

Ours is a tropical country where the natives are naturally stout. In a country of naturally short people, women with a height lesser than 5 feet are known to have higher complications during birth than their taller counterparts. This is due to the fact that shorter women have unaccommodating pelvises, making it difficult for a normal delivery. [2]

There are many other complications during birth that specifically affect women with short stature. This article will some light on the various problems short-heighted women may face during their pregnancy.

Complications Short Women May Face During Pregnancy

1) Preterm birth

This is the major complication which occurs in women with short height. If the baby is born before 37 weeks, it is considered to be premature. During pregnancy, the baby pushes against the mother's pelvis and other internal organs to grow. Women with a short stature naturally have short abdominal space, which results in the baby being born earlier [3] . In fact, babies born in such conditions are known to have digestive and respiratory problems as well.

2) Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD)

Another common problem faced by short women during delivery is cephalopelvic disproportion. This is the condition where the pelvic muscles on the mother are not broad enough to accommodate the baby's head, giving way to a caesarean. However, this condition can affect lean women as well, but short women do face this the most [4] .

3) Obstetric fistula

Obstetric fistula is a condition where the thin lining between the vagina and the urinary tract of the mother is damaged. The main reason for this is a growing baby trying to accommodate itself in a small womb [5] . This condition is also caused due to prolonged labour, or if the weight of the baby is more than 3.5 kg. In some cases, a caesarean delivery can also cause obstetric fistula in women, something that is highly probable in women with short height.

4) Episiotomy

Sometimes, during delivery, a small cut will be made between the vagina and the anus to ease the delivery of the baby's head. Though this incision may not be specific to short women, they are known to receive a deep cut than your taller counterparts to make for more space for the baby to pass. This is not only painful but also takes a longer time to heal. This is just another condition short women have to go through during a normal delivery.

5) Low birth weight and height of the baby

Women with a short stature do not have enough abdominal space for the proper and complete growth of the foetus and this results in the baby being short in height as well as underweight [6] . This carries a long-term risk to the baby as well due to the baby's growth being stunt in the initial years. An abnormally low birth weight will create more complications as the baby may be kept under observation until its organs are fully developed.

6) Complications due to caesarean delivery

Since short women are more prone to undergo caesarean delivery, this automatically puts them at a higher risk of complications connected to a caesarean, such as infection, inflammation of the uterus or internal bleeding [7] . This may pose a risk to the mother and have an effect on their future pregnancies as well.

7) Prolonged labour

Sometimes, due to the pressure on the baby, the rupturing of the amniotic sac may not progress into labour. Though this problem is not exclusive to short women, they are at a higher risk of getting their amniotic sacs ruptured due to foetal distress, often not leading to active labour [8] . This may put the lives of both the mother and the baby at risk.

8) Lack of proper oxygen flow to the foetus

Due to the short women being at a higher risk of cephalopelvic disproportion, there are chances of a baby not getting the required oxygen due to prolonged labour [9] . This may make the baby rather uncomfortable and medical intervention may be required for the safety of the baby and the mother.

9) Excessive bleeding

Short women have to apply more pressure during a vaginal delivery which can cause excessive bleeding due to higher tissue damage [10] .

What Can Women Of Short Stature Do To Prevent Such Complications?

Though mothers cannot control natural factors such as their height, it is possible to reduce the risks of the above-mentioned complications by taking a few precautions and following the advice of the consulting gynaecologist.

Here are a few things pregnant women with short height can do to have a stress free pregnancy and a less complicated delivery.

1) Following a proper diet

It is important for you to follow a diet which is rich in all the nutrients that is essential for the proper growth and development of the baby. In most of the cases, malnourished women are at a higher risk of pregnancy complications related to short height than others [11] .

2) Appropriate weight gain

Short women need to keep an eye on their weight and not go overboard as it may increase their chances of a complication during birth [12] . It is also important to control your weight or else the extra weight will only result in a crammed space the foetus to grow.

3) Keep away from stress

Excess stress is known to increase the mother's chances of developing gestational diabetes, which can be quite harmful to the mother and the baby [13] . Gestational diabetes increases the risk of premature birth and other complications as well. Stress is also known to induce contractions in women well before the due date.

4) Adequate exercise

Exercise is another way in which shorter women can avoid complications. There are many special exercise techniques that can help short cope with a vaginal birth without complications [14] . However, it is very important to take the advice of your medical counsellor before indulging in any exercise techniques.

5) Refrain from smoking or drinking during pregnancy

Due to the fact that short-statured women are at more risk of having a preterm birth, they are advised to avoid any habits which are detrimental to the health of their foetus and which may induce premature delivery. Smoking and drinking during pregnancy have been known to increase the chances of a condition called cryptorchidism in male babies born, where either one or both of the testes are missing from the scrotum [15] .

To Conclude...

Though short women may have a few more complications than women with regular height, when it comes to a vaginal delivery, not all short women have gone through a caesarean. There are many cases in medical history that have mentioned instances where short women have carried full-term babies and delivered vaginally.

It ultimately depends on the health, diet and other external factors that affect the mother. It is important to care about proper pregnancy medications and provide a favourable environment for the foetus to have healthy growth inside the womb. Therefore, the height of a mother is only part of the big picture when it comes to having a healthy baby, which or may not affect the delivery process.

View Article References
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  2. [2] Kappel, B., Eriksen, G., Hansen, K. B., Hvidman, L., Krag‐Olsen, B., Nielsen, J., ... & Wohlert, M. (1987). Short stature in scandinavian women: An obstetrical risk factor.Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica,66(2), 153-158.
  3. [3] Bisai S. (2010). Maternal height as an independent risk factor for neonatal size among adolescent bengalees in kolkata, India.Ethiopian journal of health sciences,20(3), 153-8.
  4. [4] Tsu, V. D. (1992). Maternal height and age: risk factors for cephalopelvic disproportion in Zimbabwe.International Journal of Epidemiology,21(5), 941-946.
  5. [5] Barageine, J. K., Tumwesigye, N. M., Byamugisha, J. K., Almroth, L., & Faxelid, E. (2014). Risk factors for obstetric fistula in Western Uganda: a case control study.PloS one,9(11), e112299.
  6. [6] Saville, N. M., Shrestha, B. P., Style, S., Harris-Fry, H., Beard, B. J., Sengupta, A., Jha, S., Rai, A., Paudel, V., Pulkki-Brannstrom, A. M., Copas, A., Skordis-Worrall, J., Bhandari, B., Neupane, R., Morrison, J., Gram, L., Sah, R., Basnet, M., Harthan, J., Manandhar, D. S., Osrin, D., … Costello, A. (2016). Protocol of the Low Birth Weight South Asia Trial (LBWSAT), a cluster-randomised controlled trial testing impact on birth weight and infant nutrition of Participatory Learning and Action through women's groups, with and without unconditional transfers of fortified food or cash during pregnancy in Nepal.BMC pregnancy and childbirth,16(1), 320.
  7. [7] Stulp, G., Verhulst, S., Pollet, T. V., Nettle, D., & Buunk, A. P. (2011). Parental height differences predict the need for an emergency caesarean section.PloS one,6(6), e20497.
  8. [8] Takeshima, T., Inoue, C., Kitagawa, Y., & Kusano, T. (1989). Nucleotide sequence of a Thiobacillus ferrooxidans chromosomal gene, which encodes putative RNA component of RNase P.Nucleic acids research,17(22), 9482.
  9. [9] Bajwa, S. K., & Bajwa, S. J. (2012). Delivering obstetrical critical care in developing nations.International journal of critical illness and injury science,2(1), 32-9.
  10. [10] Ononge, S., Okello, E. S., & Mirembe, F. (2016). Excessive bleeding is a normal cleansing process: a qualitative study of postpartum haemorrhage among rural Uganda women.BMC pregnancy and childbirth,16(1), 211.
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  13. [13] Sürücü, H. A., Besen, D. B., Duman, M., & Yeter Erbil, E. (2018). Coping with Stress among Pregnant Women with Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.Journal of caring sciences,7(1), 9-15.
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