Babies can be at risk of an infection while in the womb or shortly after birth. A serious infection can cause injury or harm to the baby and the mother and may put the baby at risk of further birth injuries. Doctors and healthcare professionals should be aware of the risks of an infection, take steps to reduce those risks, and properly address any infection to minimize the harm to the mother and baby.
What is a Birth Infection?
A birth infection is any infection related to the pregnancy or birth of a child. Bacteria and viruses are all around and exposure may cause the baby or mother to develop an infection. If the infection is not treated or monitored, it can cause injury to the baby or mother. In some cases, a birth infection can be fatal.
Infections are generally caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus. The body's natural immune system response identifies foreign substances and attacks the bacteria or virus to keep the body healthy. If the immune system is not strong enough to fight the infection off, it can spread in the body, causing damage. In other situations, the body's own inflammatory immune system can actually cause damage to the body through sepsis or septicemia.
With a serious or untreated infection, the body may be unable to properly supply blood, oxygen, and fluids to the organs of the body. Sepsis-induced low blood pressure can cause a dangerous drop in tissue perfusion and oxygenation, leading to organ damage. This can lead to shock, organ failure, coma, and death.
An infection in the womb, placenta, or amniotic fluid can put a fetus or baby at risk of injury. These infections can be passed from the mother to the baby through the umbilical cord or through the environment in the uterus. Generally, the placenta and amniotic fluid are sterile. However, the baby can be infected if the amniotic sac is broken for a period before birth. Bacteria found in the vagina can spread to the uterus, infecting the baby while the baby is still in the womb.
Infections in the Pregnant Mother
An infection in the pregnant mother may cause harm to the mother and/or the baby. Some infections can be passed from the mother to the baby through the umbilical cord or through passing through the birth canal. Congenital infections can be passed from the mother to the infant.
If the mother is infected, a serious infection can affect the mother's health, which could place the baby at risk of injury. However, even if the mother's immune system is strong enough to fight off an infection, the infection could spread to the baby with a weaker immune system, putting the baby at greater risk of harm during pregnancy or after birth.
Not all bacteria are harmful. Some bacteria are beneficial to the body and exist in our bodies already. Lactobacilli is one of the most common bacteria that are present in healthy women. A decrease in lactobacilli population can increase the risk of more harmful bacteria, causing an infection, such as a yeast infection.
Some of the most common birth infections occur after the baby has been born. There may be a lot of bacteria or viruses present in the birth environment or hospital setting. Hospital-acquired infections are common for individuals with compromised immune systems who spend time in a hospital or healthcare setting. After delivery, if a baby is handled without proper sanitation or cleaning protocol, the medical staff could put the baby at risk of a neonatal infection.
Common Types of Birth Infection
There are a number of types of birth infections. Newborn babies have a weaker immune system than healthy adults and have a harder time fighting off new infections from bacteria, viruses, or fungal infections. Babies who are born preterm may have an even weaker immune system and be more at risk of injury. After birth, breastfeeding can help the baby gain antibodies to help fight off infections.
Chorioamnionitis is an infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid. This risk of this infection may increase if the amniotic sac is broken a long time before delivery. An infection in the placenta can cause the mother to go into preterm labor. A doctor may be able to diagnose chorioamnionitis through the patient's history, a physical exam, and lab tests.
Streptococcus (Group B strep) is one of the most common bacteria that exist in the intestines or lower genital tract. Strep generally does not pose a threat in healthy adults but can cause an infection in newborns, leading to sepsis, pneumonia, or meningitis. A strep infection in newborns is generally caused by exposure through the birth canal.
Listeria is a common food-borne bacteria that can occur through eating contaminated food, including fruits, vegetables, or dairy products that aren't properly cleaned or handled. If a mother has Listeria monocytogenes during pregnancy, it can be transmitted to the baby.
E. coli (Escherichia coli), is another bacteria that can be transmitted to a baby during childbirth. E. coli is a common bacteria in adults but can be transmitted to the baby through the birth canal or in a contaminated hospital setting. If left untreated, E. coli can lead to infection, sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia.
Some other types of congenital infections passed from the mother to the baby may include:
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
Other infections may include hospital-acquired bacteria or viruses, that the baby could be exposed to in the delivery room or during neonatal care, including:
- MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
- Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus
- Staph Infection (Staphylococcus aureus)
- C Diff (Clostridium difficile)
Signs of Birth Infections
Signs of a birth infection can cover a wide range, depending on factors like the age of the baby, health of the baby, and type of infection. Some signs of a possible neonatal infection include:
- Poor feeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness or listlessness
- Changes in skin tone
- Unusual rash
Malpractice and Birth Infections
In some cases, a birth infection can be caused by medical malpractice or made worse because of medical negligence. Failure to properly monitor the baby and mother may result in failing to recognize the signs or symptoms of an infection. If the baby does develop an infection, failure to treat the baby and address the infection may increase the risk of harm, including permanent injury or death.
Birth Injury Malpractice Lawyers
If your child was injured because of medical negligence, talk to an experienced birth injury attorney about your options for recovery. Doctors and hospitals should be held accountable for their actions. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.