How Can Medical Malpractice Cause Preterm Delivery?


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There are few things more exciting and joyful than the birth of a baby. However, it can become a truly scary or even tragic experience when labor and delivery come too early. Babies who are delivered prematurely often suffer a multitude of health challenges, some of which may last a lifetime. There are times that a premature delivery occurs through the fault of no one. But, there are times that premature deliveries happen due to the negligence of a medical professional. When this occurs, it may be considered a birth injury, and the doctor (or other healthcare provider) may be held liable for the consequences to the mother and child. 

What Are the Common Causes of Premature Delivery? 

A typical pregnancy is 39 to 40 weeks in duration, and is considered full-term. Anything earlier is considered a preterm delivery. While babies are generally considered viable and able to survive outside of the womb at 24 weeks, there are many complications and medical issues that they may face. 

There are many things that may contribute to a premature birth. The following are some common risk factors: 

  • Pregnancy that includes multiple babies in the womb
  • Previous premature births
  • Cervix abnormalities like an ineffectual cervix
  • Uterine infections
  • Genital infections like bacterial vaginosis
  • Untreated urinary tract infections
  • Infections in amniotic fluid
  • Complications in the pregnancy (preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, excessive amniotic fluid, placental abruption) 
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Unexplained bleeding after 20 weeks 
  • Blood clotting disorders

There is also a greater risk of premature delivery when the mother is underweight or overweight, has had multiple abortions, or if there is less than six months from a birth and the beginning of another pregnancy. Any of the above factors require that mother and baby be monitored closely by doctors throughout the pregnancy so that any signs of premature labor are caught and treated quickly. 

Warning Signs of Premature Labor 

When an expectant mother is experiencing premature labor, she must seek medical attention immediately. Sometimes, the labor can be successfully stopped and the baby can be carried full-term, or steroids can be given to help accelerate the baby’s development, making chances of a healthy survival outside of the womb better even if not carried to term. In the event that labor cannot be stopped, the baby must be delivered and have the appropriate care for premature babies. 

Some of the warning signs that doctors must be aware of and act on quickly are: 

  • Contractions that are less than 10 minutes apart
  • Tight or dull lower backache
  • Pain that feels like menstrual cramps or gas
  • Pelvic or vaginal pressure
  • Vaginal discharge or fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Reduction in the movement of the baby

Medical Malpractice, Premature Delivery, and Birth Injury

Doctors have a responsibility to provide reasonably competent care for expectant mothers and their unborn children. Unfortunately, there are many instances when doctors make mistakes or fail to fulfill their duties as medical professionals. When this happens, a premature delivery may occur, causing injuries to mother, baby, or both that may be considered birth injuries, and that may constitute a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

A doctor may commit medical malpractice by failing to:

  • Identify the warning signs of premature labor
  • Require bedrest for a mother who is at risk of preterm labor
  • Properly treat an ineffectual cervix by suturing
  • Prescribe steroids to advance the baby’s development in preparation for a premature delivery
  • Administer medications to the mother to stop or slow premature labor

The above are only a few of the ways that a doctor can commit malpractice and cause premature delivery and birth injuries. To determine whether a medical professional is liable for a premature birth, it is necessary to determine what a reasonable doctor would have done in the same situation. If that doctor would have recognized preterm labor signs, but the attending doctor did not, then the doctor may be considered liable for the resulting injuries. 

Complications Associated with Premature Delivery 

There are a variety of complications that a baby can face when it is delivered too early. The severity of the complications often depends on just how premature the delivery was. It also may depend on whether there was an administration of steroids to accelerate the baby’s development. It isn’t likely that a baby born at less than 24 weeks will be able to survive outside its mother’s womb. However, babies born after 24 weeks may live when they have the appropriate medical intervention. 

Babies born early, but after 24 weeks, may experience significant complications and health challenges that are long-lasting or permanent. Some of these include, developmental delays, vision and/or hearing loss, digestive problems, respiratory problems, jaundice, cerebral palsy, and even death. These birth injuries may have been prevented had the doctor identified and treated preterm labor. 

Getting Help for Your Birth Injury Case 

If your baby was born prematurely and has suffered medical complications or injuries as a result, you and your child may be victims of medical malpractice. Birth injury cases often are complicated, so it’s important to find the right legal representation to help you with your case. 

Ross Feller Casey has an unmatched record of victories in all types of birth injury lawsuits and can help you. Our experienced birth injury attorneys and on-staff doctors can review your medical records and help you proceed. Contact us now for your free consultation. 

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