When a pregnancy extends for more than 42 weeks, this is typically called a post-term pregnancy. If the pregnancy reaches 41 weeks, this may be considered a late-term pregnancy, but childbirth anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy is considered normal. In some cases, a pregnancy may be inaccurately classified as a post-term pregnancy because a doctor did not determine the due date correctly. Determining the due date involves using ultrasounds and measuring the size of the uterus early in a pregnancy, as well as tracking the first audible heartbeat of the baby and the first movements of the baby in the uterus.
Risk factors for post-term pregnancy include a first pregnancy, a pregnancy with a male child, a history of previous post-term pregnancies, and excessive maternal weight. If a pregnancy extends past the 42nd week, a doctor may:
Check fetal kicking and other movements for any changes that suggest fetal distress.
Use non-stress testing to track the fetal heart rate and its responsiveness to fetal movements.
Perform ultrasounds to check the growth of the baby and obtain images of its organs and tissues. Ultrasounds combined with non-stress testing form a biophysical profile.
Perform Doppler flow studies to measure the blood flow in the baby if they do not appear to be growing normally.
A mother in a post-term pregnancy should contact their doctor immediately if they develop bleeding or if they notice leaking amniotic fluid, which could indicate a rupture of their membranes. Any changes in the activity of a baby require prompt attention.
Treatment for Post-Term Pregnancy
If testing reveals problems during a post-term pregnancy, a doctor may advise a mother to induce labor. They should carefully monitor the heart rate of the fetus throughout this process. This can identify problems such as oxygen deprivation, which can affect the heart rate and cause other serious complications. If complications arise, a mother may need to undergo a C-section rather than a traditional vaginal birth.
When oligohydramnios (a lack of amniotic fluid) arises during childbirth, a doctor may use a technique called amnioinfusion. This involves using a catheter to insert sterile fluid into the uterus, serving as a substitute for the amniotic fluid. Amnioinfusion also may help address problems caused by the fetus pressing on the umbilical cord.
Potential Complications of Post-Term Pregnancy
Complications associated with an overly long pregnancy may affect both the mother and the child. The mother may experience a more arduous childbirth and may suffer injuries to the birth canal. This increases the risk of infections and bleeding after delivery.
Post-term pregnancy labor and delivery may be more likely to require the use of forceps and vacuum extraction devices by doctors.
Meanwhile, a baby may suffer from conditions such as oligohydramnios, abnormal growth patterns, or hypoglycemia, which is a low blood sugar level caused by an inadequate supply of glucose. Another potentially serious complication of a post-term pregnancy for a child is meconium aspiration syndrome, in which a child inhales their first stool. A baby who is unusually large may be more likely to suffer from birth trauma. In some tragic but rare cases, a baby may not survive the complications of post-term pregnancy.
Legal Claims Related to a Post-Term Pregnancy
When a doctor recognizes that a pregnancy has extended for longer than normal, they should take greater care to monitor the health of the mother and the child. If they identify complications that warrant inducing labor or performing a C-section, they should take these steps promptly. If a doctor does not conduct proper tests, or does not respond appropriately to test results, this may cause serious harm. Any failures to diagnose or treat a condition related to post-term pregnancy may support a medical malpractice claim.
Standard of Care
A family bringing a medical malpractice claim related to errors during pregnancy or childbirth must show that a doctor did not adhere to the professional standard of care. This consists of the practices that a competent doctor would have used in managing a similar pregnancy.
Expert testimony usually plays a central role in these cases. A doctor or another health care provider who is familiar with the defendant’s field can describe the appropriate practices and identify any errors. They also can explain how these errors caused injuries to a mother or a child. Since retaining experts and handling other aspects of birth injury lawsuits can be complicated, parents should consult an experienced birth injury attorney as soon as they can if they suspect malpractice.