The role of the pelvic floor soft tissues during the second stage of labor, particularly the levator ani muscle, has attracted much interest recently. It has been postulated that the passage of the fetal head through the pelvis may cause excessive stretching of the levator ani muscle, which may lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse later in life. In order to study the complex biomechanical interactions between the levator ani muscle and the fetal head during the second stage of labor, finite element models have been developed for quantitative analysis of this process. In this study we have simulated vaginal delivery using individual-specific anatomical computer models of the pelvic floor interacting with a fetal head model with minimal restrictions placed upon its motion. Two constitutive relations were considered for the levator ani muscle (of exponential and neo-Hookean forms). For comparison purposes, the exponential relation was chosen to exhibit much greater stiffening at higher strains beyond the range of the experimental data. We demonstrated that increased nonlinearity in the elastic response of the tissues leads to considerably higher (56%) estimated force required for delivery, accompanied by a more homogeneous spatial distribution of maximum principal stretch ratio across the muscle. These results indicate that the form of constitutive relation beyond the presently available experimental data markedly affects the estimated function of the levator ani muscle during vaginal delivery, due to the large strains that occur. Further experimental data at higher strains are necessary in order to more reliably characterize the constitutive behavior required for modeling vaginal childbirth.

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