When a pregnancy develops complications or extends well past the due date, a doctor may recommend inducing labor. A drug called Pitocin (a type of oxytocin) may be administered intravenously for this purpose. Pitocin induces or increases contractions during childbirth. This may be useful when a mother suffers from certain conditions that could endanger the fetus or her, such as preeclampsia, diabetes, or a premature rupture of the fetal membranes before labor starts. However, errors involving Pitocin may result in oxygen deprivation due to excessive contractions.
Impact of Oxygen Deprivation
Oxygen deprivation is a serious concern during childbirth because it can lead to permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy.
The federal Food and Drug Administration advises against using Pitocin outside hospitals or other settings where close medical attention can be provided. Due to the potentially serious risks associated with the drug, the FDA has attached a black box warning to it. Doctors should use Pitocin only when it is necessary, and they should take care to avoid an excessive dose. Both the mother and the fetus should be monitored constantly while the drug is administered. Medical professionals should understand the possible signs of Pitocin complications and respond to them immediately. In some cases, a doctor may need to perform a C-section.
Complications Caused by Pitocin Errors
No uniform dosage of Pitocin is appropriate in all circumstances. Different women will respond differently to the drug, so a doctor must calibrate the dosage carefully in each situation. An excessive dose of Pitocin or a failure to discontinue the use of Pitocin after observing signs of maternal or fetal distress may lead to dire consequences for both the mother and the child. For example, a mother might suffer a stroke, a hemorrhage (severe bleeding) after birth, or even death in very rare cases.
A condition known as uterine rupture also might arise, in which the fetus enters the abdomen and may suffocate unless they are delivered immediately. In addition, a child may suffer from heart problems, decreased blood pressure, and brain damage. This is because strong, rapid contractions may disrupt the heart rate and oxygen level of the baby. If a doctor administers Pitocin in a proper dose and for a proper time, however, a baby likely can be born without complications.
Who Is at Fault?
Injuries caused by Pitocin usually indicate errors by doctors, rather than inherent problems with the drug.
Legal Claims Based on Pitocin Errors
An excessive dose of Pitocin or a failure to recognize complications from the drug may cause permanent disabilities that change the lives of a child and their family. Treating conditions such as cerebral palsy tends to be complex and expensive. A child may need medications, surgeries, regular doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Sometimes a child will need leg braces, a wheelchair, or home modifications. A mother who suffers harm from a Pitocin error may no longer be able to hold a job and may need long-term treatment as well. Both a mother and a child may experience persistent physical pain and emotional distress. All of these losses may be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
To prove the liability of a health care provider, a plaintiff usually must show that the provider did not follow the appropriate practices that a similarly situated provider would have followed when treating a similar patient. This requires presenting testimony from doctors or other experts who are familiar with the field. A plaintiff also may need to submit an affidavit of merit, in which an expert who has reviewed the records provides an opinion that the claim is valid. Due to their complexity, birth injury cases benefit from professional representation. Parents may worry about the cost of hiring an attorney, but birth injury lawyers usually charge contingency fees. This means that they collect compensation for their services as a percentage of any damages awarded to a client.