During the months of pregnancy, parents-to-be are often thinking about how they will care for their child to give them the best life possible. The last stage of pregnancy is delivery, and parents understand how important it is for their child’s health. If a doctor makes a mistake during delivery, it can have a devastating impact on the child and mother’s health.
It is important to understand what can go wrong during delivery, the types of birth injuries, and how to recognize possible signs of medical negligence to protect your baby. If you have questions about the type of care you received during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, you can get advice from an experienced birth injury medical malpractice lawyer. If your child was injured because of a medical mistake, contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.
Types of Birth Injuries
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there almost 20,000 infant deaths in 2021. Of the more than 3.6 million live births in the U.S., 8.52% of babies were born with a low birthrate, and 10.49% of babies were born preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation). More than 5 of every 1,000 live births result in infant death. The most common causes of infant death include:
- Congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal abnormalities
- Disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Of the children that survive delivery, many more end up with birth injuries that can impact them and their families for the rest of their lives. Birth injuries range from minor to severe, with some birth injuries causing permanent disability. Some of the common types of birth injuries include:
- Traumatic birth injuries
- Lack of oxygen brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Liver dysfunction
- Infection injury
Traumatic injuries generally involve injuries during the delivery process. With birth complications, there can be a need to quickly deliver the child to ensure the child gets oxygen. In delayed delivery events, the doctor may need to perform an immediate cesarean delivery. However, some doctors delay a C-section and instead try delivery instruments like forceps or vacuum extractors, which can cause a traumatic head injury. Other types of negligent delivery can cause other types of traumatic birth injuries, like damage to the back, spinal cord, or shoulders.
Lack of oxygen is one of the most serious complications at risk in delivery. During pregnancy, the child gets oxygen through the mother’s blood supply. During delivery, there is a short period when the child transitions from an oxygenated blood supply to breathing air. If this transition is delayed too long, the child can suffer oxygen deprivation or apoxia. Types of low-oxygen birth injuries include:
- Umbilical cord around the neck (nuchal cord)
- Prolapsed cord
- Anesthesia complications
- Acute maternal hypotension
- Uterine rupture
- Placenta previa
Lack of oxygen can quickly spiral into tissue damage, cell death, and organ failure. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a lack of oxygen birth injury. Ischemia is caused by a reduction in the blood flow to the brain. Without oxygenated blood being supplied throughout the body, it can cause damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, and other vital organs. Lack of oxygen to the brain can result in permanent brain damage and developmental disabilities.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most type of motor disability that can be caused by birth injuries. Palsy refers to paralysis-related conditions and can cause different types of movement disorders. About 10,000 children each year in the U.S. are born with cerebral palsy. The most common type of cerebral palsy is known as spastic cerebral palsy which involves muscle stiffness and uncontrolled movements.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), risk factors for cerebral palsy include:
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Multiple births
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments
- Infection during pregnancy
- Jaundice and kernicterus
- Mother with thyroid problems
- Mothers with seizures
- Birth complications
There are ways the parents can reduce the risk of a birth injury causing cerebral palsy. Before pregnancy, it is important for the mother to stay as healthy as possible. This includes getting treatment for any infections or health conditions. Talk to your doctor about what you can do during pregnancy to stay healthy.
Other steps include getting vaccinated for conditions that could harm the baby before getting pregnant, including for certain diseases like chickenpox and rubella. If the parents are using assistive reproductive technology (ART) infertility treatments, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce the chance of multiple pregnancies.
During pregnancy, it is important to talk to your doctor if you get sick or have signs of an infection. Take common steps to avoid sicknesses like washing hands with soap and water. During flu season, a flu shot can provide protection against serious illness from the flu. Mothers should also know their blood type and Rh compatibility to reduce the risk of jaundice and kernicterus. This may include Rh immune globulin treatments.
After the baby is born, there are other steps the parents can take to keep the baby safe and healthy. Newborns should be vaccinated against serious infections that cause meningitis and encephalitis. Talk to your doctor about other steps you can take to give your child the best opportunities for a safe and healthy life.
Jaundice and Birth Injuries
Jaundice is not uncommon in newborns. However, severe jaundice that is not treated can cause brain damage or kernicterus, which is a cause of cerebral palsy. Other types of birth injuries involving liver problems include hyperbilirubinemia and bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND). Parents should have their child checked for jaundice in the hospital and shortly after leaving the hospital.
Prenatal and perinatal jaundice should be closely monitored and treated. In most cases, it will resolve within a few weeks but if left untreated can cause serious health complications.
Reducing the Risk of Infection During Delivery
Sources of infection are all around us. The body does a good job at fighting off infection for common types of bacteria, viruses, or fungi. However, the fetus, newborns, and young children can be more vulnerable to infection. Birth infection can be transmitted from the mother to the baby during pregnancy, or exposure during delivery or after delivery in the hospital environment.
Infections in a baby can be serious if not properly monitored and treated. In some cases, birth infections can cause serious birth injuries and put the child at risk of permanent injury or death. Types of birth infections include:
- Zika virus
- E. coli
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Group B Streptococcus
In some cases, the infection can come from the hospital or medical staff. Doctors and hospitals are supposed to follow very strict sterilization procedures, especially during labor and around newborns. However, some hospital staff fails to follow sanitation procedures which can increase the risk of infection. Many patients expect hospitals to be cleaner than the outside world but hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are more common than you may suspect.
- Poor feeding
- Breathing difficulty
- Decreased or elevated temperature
- Unusual skin rash or change in skin color
- Persistent crying
- Unusual irritability
- Marked change in a baby’s behavior
How To Know If You Are Getting the Best Care
Many patients don’t have a lot of options when it comes to medical care during pregnancy. Patients with HMO or PPO insurance may be limited to doctors within their network. Patients often stay with the first doctor they see even if they are not happy with their care. Patients may be unsure of how to request a new doctor or worry about paying for medical care that is not within their network.
You may want to check your doctor’s medical history and find out how often they have been sued for possible medical malpractice. An internet search can sometimes turn up useful information but it can be hard to narrow down relevant information related to your doctor’s medical standards. Your state’s medical board may have information about disciplinary measures and sanctions involving your doctor for medical errors or other dangerous behavior like substance abuse problems.
If you are not happy with your medical team, find out the process of getting a second opinion or trying to change your doctor. Pregnant mothers should be able to have confidence in the doctors or OB/GYN who will be involved in their delivery. One of the most common complaints from patients, including pregnant patients, is that their doctor isn’t listening to them.
It is important for a doctor to carefully monitor a pregnant patient, which includes listening to their complaints and health information. If your doctor is not listening and does not take into account what you say in making a diagnosis, it can delay the treatment of serious conditions. Not listening to a patient is not just rude, it can lead to serious mistreatment and potential birth injuries or medical malpractice.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “When you and your doctor work together as a team, you get better health care. Look for a doctor who:
- Treats you with respect
- Listens to your opinions and concerns
- Encourages you to ask questions
- Explains things in ways you understand”
When you are looking for a birth doctor, some questions you may want to ask include:
- Does the doctor have special training?
- Does the doctor have experience in my type of pregnancy?
- Which hospitals does the doctor use?
- If the doctor isn’t available, who will see me?
- Does the doctor speak my preferred language?
- What are cancellation policies for medical appointments?
- How long does it take to get an appointment?
- Are there evening or weekend appointments?
- Are there telemedicine options online or over the phone?
How Is Your Delivery Hospital Rated?
Not all hospitals and medical facilities are equal. Patients may be limited to hospitals in their area and hospitals in their insurance network. There are several hospital rating systems but before relying solely on rankings, it is important to understand what the ratings mean. However, a review of hospital ratings can help you decide where you want to deliver your child when the time comes.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) have a Hospital Quality Initiative that gives hospitals and care facilities a star rating, from 1 to 5. Patients can use Medicare’s “Care Compare” to find and compare hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers. The rating system is based on the hospital’s performance in different quality areas, including:
- Safety of care
- Patient experience
- Timely and effective care
Another hospital ranking system comes from U.S. News & World Report. Their rankings allow users to search for the best hospitals by specialty. Some of the high-performing maternity care facilities include:
Higher Performing in Maternity Care in Baltimore Area
- Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center
- Sinai Hospital of Baltimore
- Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
- Johns Hopkins Medicine-Howard County General Hospital
Higher Performing in Maternity Care in Philadelphia Area
- Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian
- Pennsylvania Hospital
- Main Line Health Bryn Mawr Hospital
- Chester County Hospital
- Jefferson Health-Abington Hospital
- Einstein Medical Center Montgomery
- Main Line Health Riddle Hospital
Higher Performing in Maternity Care in Chicago Area
- Northwestern Medicine-Northwestern Memorial Hospital
- Advocate Lutheran General Hospital
- Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital
- Advocate Sherman Hospital
- Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital
- Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital
- Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center
- Advocate Condell Medical Center
- Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital
- Advocate South Suburban Hospital
- Aurora Medical Center-Kenosha
- Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital
- Rush Copley Medical Center
What To Do If Your Delivery Goes Wrong
You do all your can to give your child the best. However, sometimes even uncomplicated pregnancies can have complications. If there were problems during delivery and you are worried that your child may have suffered a birth injury, you should get advice about your legal options. If the injuries were caused by the negligence of a doctor, medication errors, or other hospital errors, you may be able to recover compensation to pay for your child’s medical needs.
If you have questions about your legal rights after a birth injury, contact a law firm that handles birth injury medical malpractice cases just like yours. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.