On the biomechanics of vaginal birth and common sequelae

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2009:11:163-76. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-061008-124823.


Approximately 11% of U.S. women undergo surgery for pelvic floor dysfunction, including genital organ prolapse and urinary and fecal incontinence. The major risk factor for developing these conditions is giving vaginal birth. Vaginal birth is a remarkable event about which little is known from a biomechanical perspective. We first review the functional anatomy of the female pelvic floor, the normal loads acting on the pelvic floor in activities of daily living, and the functional capacity of the pelvic floor muscles. Computer models show that the stretch ratio in the pelvic floor muscles can reach an extraordinary 3.26 by the end of the second stage of labor. Magnetic resonance images provide evidence that show that the pelvic floor regions experiencing the most stretch are at the greatest risk for injury, especially in forceps deliveries. A conceptual model suggests how these injuries may lead to the most common form of pelvic organ prolapse, a cystocele.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Delivery, Obstetric / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Pelvic Floor / injuries
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk
  • Uterine Contraction
  • Vagina / injuries