Due to scientific advances, pregnancy and childbirth are far less risky than they once were. Most women navigate this process smoothly, allowing them to enjoy the experience of building a family. However, complications still may arise in some cases. Certain complications are typically associated with premature birth, while others tend to arise in a post-term pregnancy, but even a pregnancy of normal length may encounter challenges. Complications during pregnancy or labor and delivery may affect the health of both the mother and the child. Doctors should monitor a pregnancy carefully, check for risk factors, and address complications promptly when they arise.
Perinatal Asphyxia (Oxygen Deprivation)
When a child does not get enough oxygen before, during, or shortly after birth, this condition is known as perinatal asphyxia. This may lead to brain injuries, heart problems, and respiratory conditions, among other serious concerns. Sometimes perinatal asphyxia arises from issues involving the uterus, placenta, or umbilical cord, or it may result from maternal health problems. Apgar tests and pH measurements may help a doctor diagnose this condition. Treatment may include therapy, medications, and mechanical ventilation. A doctor may advise a C-section or provide extra oxygen when they observe perinatal asphyxia in a fetus.
Both a mother and a child face serious risks from shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the shoulder of the child is lodged behind the pubic bone of the mother. The mother may suffer hemorrhages and uterine rupture, while a baby may suffer brachial plexus injuries, brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation, and other conditions that may cause permanent disabilities. Some risk factors for shoulder dystocia arise before birth, such as fetal macrosomia or diabetes. Others arise during labor and delivery, such as the use of epidural anesthesia or assistive instruments like forceps or vacuum extractors.
During pregnancy, an organ known as the placenta develops in the uterus to provide food and oxygen to the baby. The placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus during birth and exits through the birth canal. A complication known as placenta previa may occur when the placenta develops in the lower part of the uterus and covers or partly covers the cervix. Blood vessels may tear when the cervix dilates for labor, causing heavy bleeding that may endanger the mother and the child. Placental abruption is another serious complication. This occurs when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth, causing blood loss and depriving the baby of oxygen.
Umbilical Cord Complications
The umbilical cord supplies a baby with food and oxygen from the placenta, while removing waste. Umbilical cord complications include prolapse, when the cord enters the birth canal before the baby enters it. This can result in oxygen deprivation and may require a C-section. A baby also may suffer life-threatening bleeding from a condition known as vasa previa, which occurs when blood vessels from the placenta and umbilical cord cross the cervix and rupture early in childbirth. Other complications involving the umbilical cord include knots, cysts, and an issue known as nuchal cord, which means that the umbilical cord is wrapped around the neck of the baby.
High blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy may indicate preeclampsia, especially if a mother develops kidney and liver problems. If this condition goes untreated, a mother may suffer brain damage, stroke, hemorrhages, seizures, and even coma. A baby also faces a greater risk of premature birth and other complications that may affect their growth. A doctor should monitor mild preeclampsia, regularly checking the blood pressure and urine of the mother. If a woman has a more serious case, they may need to stay in the hospital and receive medications to control the symptoms. Sometimes a doctor will induce labor or perform a C-section if symptoms do not improve.
Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
Before or shortly after birth, a baby may pass their first feces, which is known as meconium. When a baby passes meconium before birth, they may breathe the substance into their lungs. Meconium aspiration syndrome may be more likely to occur if a baby suffers from an infection or a lack of oxygen. This condition is often associated with post-term birth or a difficult labor. If the condition is not properly treated, a baby may suffer from serious lung conditions. Sometimes a doctor can tap on the child’s chest to loosen meconium secretions. Other treatments include nitric oxide to open blood vessels, surfactant to open lungs, and antibiotics for any related infections.
Sometimes a mother transmits an infection to the baby during pregnancy or childbirth. The baby may suffer much greater harm than the mother. For example, a woman often experiences a Group B strep infection without symptoms, but a baby who contracts this infection may suffer from meningitis, sepsis, and other serious conditions. Often caused by bacteria entering the uterus from the vagina, an infection of the amniotic fluid known as chorioamnionitis also may lead to life-threatening complications. Other types of maternal infections that may harm a baby include hepatitis B, chickenpox, rubella, and listeriosis.
Compensation for Medical Errors in Handling Complications
By carefully reviewing the medical history of a mother and monitoring a pregnancy, a doctor may prevent some potential complications. Others may not be avoidable, but a doctor still might be able to mitigate or resolve them through prompt diagnosis and treatment. If a condition goes undiagnosed and untreated, both the mother and the child may suffer life-changing harm. A family should hold accountable any health care providers who failed to meet the appropriate standard of care during pregnancy and childbirth.
Through a medical malpractice claim, a mother and her child can receive damages for treatment required to address health conditions caused by medical errors. They also can receive compensation for their pain and suffering and reduced quality of life. These claims are more complex than most personal injury claims, since they rely on expert testimony and are governed by distinctive rules. To ensure that they protect their rights, parents should consult a birth injury attorney as soon as possible. Most attorneys provide a free consultation to discuss the strength and value of a claim.