Fortunately, most pregnant women in the United States receive adequate prenatal care. Most women do not experience complications when they deliver their babies. When complications do arise, doctors are usually able to help the mother and the baby avoid injury.
Unfortunately, poor medical care injures some women and babies before or during childbirth. Some injuries are fatal. While tragedies during childbirth cannot always be avoided, a significant number of mothers and babies are harmed every year by negligent doctors.
Medical negligence, also known as medical malpractice, occurs when a doctor or other healthcare provider fails to provide the standard of care that other members of the profession within the same community would ordinarily follow. In the case of an obstetrician, that means the doctor fails to follow the procedures that reasonably prudent obstetricians would ordinarily follow under the same circumstances.
Medical malpractice can affect pregnant women and their babies during prenatal care and during childbirth. The following examples of medical negligence will give you a sense of the kind of harms that cause parents and spouses to seek the help of a medical malpractice attorney.
Prenatal Care Malpractice
Doctors who provide prenatal care are expected to examine their pregnant patients, to investigate patient complaints that might signal a problem with the pregnancy, and to follow up on abnormal test results. They commit malpractice when they fail to provide appropriate care and the pregnant mother or her fetus experiences a preventable injury.
The failure to diagnose harmful conditions during pregnancy is one of the most common forms of prenatal care malpractice. Among other conditions in pregnant women, doctors sometimes fail to diagnose:
- Preeclampsia (a hypertensive disorder that is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death).
- Gestational diabetes (a condition that can lead to hyperglycemia, placing the mother’s child at risk of developing macrosomia, breathing difficulties, and other health problems).
- Hypoglycemia (a condition involving low blood sugar that is particularly dangerous for Type 1 diabetics and can lead to stillbirth, congenital malformations, and other fetal health conditions).
- Macrosomia (a doctor’s failure to detect an unusually large fetus can lead to complications during delivery, causing harm to the baby and/or the mother’s birth canal).
- Rh compatibility (a preventable condition that, if not treated, can lead to brain damage, seizures, and other infant disorders).
- Severe anemia (insufficient iron during pregnancy can cause a baby to suffer from anemia and other health problems).
- Infections (a number of infections in the mother’s body, such as herpes or E. coli, can be transmitted to the baby or cause health conditions such as neonatal sepsis).
Other examples of negligent prenatal care include the failure to identify an ectopic pregnancy and the failure to warn pregnant women that the use of certain drugs will elevate the risk of birth defects.
Acts of medical malpractice during the delivery of a child can cause harm to the mother, to the baby, or both. In extreme cases, negligence can lead to the death of the mother or child.
Preventable injuries that occur during childbirth include:
- Brachial plexus injuries (nerve damage that occurs when the baby’s shoulder is stretched, often because too much force is used to pull the baby as the baby passes through the birth canal).
- Shoulder dystocia (often caused by the inappropriate use of a vacuum extractor during delivery, the baby’s shoulder becomes lodged against the mother’s public bone as the baby’s head emerges, compressing the baby’s chest and reducing the baby’s supply of oxygen).
- Fractured clavicle (a broken collarbone can be caused by the careless use of forceps, by pulling on the baby, or by other “rough” delivery techniques).
- Prolapsed umbilical cord (a condition that causes oxygen deprivation to the baby, usually requiring cesarean delivery and causing brain damage if the doctor fails to recognize and respond to the problem immediately).
- Spinal cord injuries (among the most severe injuries to babies during childbirth, spinal cord damage can be caused by the incorrect use of forceps during delivery).
- Cerebral palsy (failing to detect and remedy conditions that disrupt the supply of oxygen to the baby’s brain during childbirth can cause the onset of cerebral palsy, a condition that impairs motor control).
- Fetal distress (an umbrella category that covers a variety of complications of labor, often caused by waiting too long to induce delivery or by failing to address conditions that are depriving the baby of oxygen).
- Premature rupture of membranes (when amniotic fluid leaks before labor starts, the failure to administer prompt medical care can cause infections in both the mother and the child).
- Postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding from the uterus is the most common cause of maternal death after the delivery of a baby).
Not every tragedy involving a pregnant woman or newborn baby is avoidable, but mothers and their newborns should not have their lives and health jeopardized by careless mistakes. The acts of negligence listed above are only some of the common cause of injury arising out of pregnancy and childbirth.
If you or your baby experienced a serious injury, or if your spouse or child died during childbirth, do not take it on faith that your obstetrician did everything that could have been done under the circumstances. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether medical malpractice was responsible for or contributed to the injury or death.