There are a number of complications which can occur during labor and delivery, and your doctor should be prepared to face each one with the best care possible. High-risk pregnancies present a greater chance that the mother will face complications, but even high-risk pregnancies are not uncommon, so you always should feel confident in your doctor's ability to handle any birth complications that arise.
Medical and Legal Complications of Birth Injuries
Medical statistics show that currently, 13% of women in the US experience birth complications. If doctors are not prepared to handle complications, the situation could turn serious for the mother and child. Proper training and adherence to the “standard of care” is absolutely necessary for handling birth complications, but equally important is your doctor's ability to diagnose and/or treat at-risk pregnancies at the first sign so that you and your doctor are on heightened alert for any serious problems that may arise.
Mothers may have a high-risk pregnancy if they show signs of:
- High blood pressure, present in 6% to 8% of all pregnant women
- Anemia, associated with a low red blood cell count, present in about 18% of all pregnant women
- Gestational Diabetes, present in 2% to 10% of all pregnant women
- Preeclampsia, associated with high blood pressure and a higher than normal level of protein in the urine, present in 3% to 5% of all pregnant women
- Multiple births, present in about 4% of all pregnant women, but the rate increases with the age of the mother
- Sudden decrease in activity of the baby in utero
- Intra Uterine Growth Reduction, when the baby grows slower than normal
- Pre-existing medical conditions; pre-existing heart problems are the #1 cause of maternal mortality
Mothers over the age of 40 also have a higher chance for an at-risk pregnancy.
Your doctor should be able to recognize signs of an at-risk pregnancy, and should be aware of common birth complications and how to handle them.
Common Birth Complications
While high-risk pregnancies are more likely to experience birth complications, even perfectly normal and healthy pregnancies can result in complications. Some common birth complications include:
- Slow or unproductive labor
- Breech position-including frank breech (the baby comes out buttocks first), complete breech (the baby's knees and hips are flexed) , incomplete breech (one or both of the baby's feet comes out first) , and a traverse position (the baby's shoulder comes out first)
- Amniotic Fluid Embolism- amniotic fluid enters the mother's bloodstream
- Placenta Previa- the placenta covers the cervix
- Placenta Accreta- the placenta is unusually and dangerously attached to the uterus
- Uterine Rupture
- Nuchal Cord- the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby's head
- Other umbilical cord issues- like cord prolapse when the umbilical cord comes out the birth canal before the baby
- Cephalopelvic Disproportion- the baby's head will not fit through the mother's pubic bone or is stuck
- Premature rupture- when the mother's “water break” occurs too early
- Excessive bleeding after childbirth
- Hypoxia- reduced oxygen to the baby's brain
Many birth complications fix themselves over the course of the pregnancy or labor and delivery process, but your doctor should be aware of any complications, and consistently and closely monitor them. For example, statistics show that 25% of babies are in a breech position at 28 weeks, but by 34 weeks that number drops to 7%. Some, like excessive bleeding in the mother after birth or hypoxia in the baby, may result in permanent damage or death.
Resulting Injuries from Birth Complications
- Erb's palsy- temporary or permanent nerve damage, typically to the neck or arm
- Cerebral palsy- a condition that affects the brain's ability to control movement
- Hypoxia- a reduced oxygen supply to the baby's brain
- Facial paralysis
- Bone fractures
- Caput succedaneum- swelling of the baby's scalp that leads to increased risk of jaundice. Caput succedaneum normally goes away on its own, but may cause further complications
- Cephalohematoma –bleeding under the baby's cranium. Cephalohematoma also leads to jaundice, or cause further complications.
- Kernicterus- brain damage from excessive jaundice. Kernicterus occurs when bilirubin, the substance that causes jaundice, becomes too concentrated in the blood stream and moves into the brain.
How Parents Can Prepare
The United States is one of eight countries that saw a recent rise in maternal mortality, putting the US behind China for motherhood survival after childbirth, though it is still considered rare, even in the US. One factor in this is the rising number of women who have diseases like hypertension and diabetes that result in a high-risk pregnancy and possible birth complications.
Mothers and new parents should be aware of their own medical history to best facilitate communication with their doctors, and to help monitor their own health. Make sure to follow your doctor's orders, and see any specialists your doctor may refer you to. Keep your doctor informed of any medication you are on. Maintain notes of doctors' visits, and stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy. This includes eating right, exercising, and avoiding certain foods and products like tobacco and excessive caffeine.
Taking Legal Action
When birth complications arise, your doctor may need to act quickly to alleviate the problem. This sometimes leads to excessive or missed steps in the care process, or unnecessary force used to help quickly birth the baby.
Your doctor could also fail to act in a way that would help protect the mother and child. Doctors must adhere to a “standard of care” that dictates they must act in a way any other reasonable doctor in their position would have acted.
If you believe you or your baby was harmed from your doctor's negligence surrounding birth complications, contact Gilman & Bedigian today to learn more about your options.