When Is Birth Trauma Considered Medical Malpractice?


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There is always a chance that a baby will be injured during childbirth, though, thankfully, it doesn’t happen often. Fewer than three percent of babies suffer some birth trauma in the U.S., but those that do are often injured due to the improper handling of labor or delivery by medical professionals or the misuse of delivery instruments. Birth injuries often happen to the head, neck, and shoulders because babies are typically born head-first, but sometimes injuries occur to other parts of the body as well.

What Are The Most Common Types Of Birth Traumas?

Various injuries may occur to infants as they are being born. Some of the most common include:

  • Bruising and fractured bones – There is physical stress involved in childbirth, so it isn’t unusual to see some bruising on the baby, even in smooth deliveries. However, when delivery instruments like vacuum extractors or forceps are used to aid delivery, bruising can be more severe. Fractured bones, the most common type of birth injury for newborns, can also occur from the use (or misuse) of delivery instruments, or if the baby is pulled too hard or handled too harshly during delivery.
  • Caput Succedaneum – This injury results in the scalp swelling during childbirth or just following the delivery. It can be caused by the pressure the baby’s head experiences as it moves through the birth canal. There is a higher likelihood of this type of injury when labor is prolonged. Caput succedaneum can also happen when vacuum extractors are used during delivery.
  • Brachial plexus injuries – This type of injury happens when the infant’s shoulder becomes lodged in the birth canal, and the doctor pulls strongly on one arm to dislodge the baby. This condition can be mild or severe and can result in permanent nerve damage.  
  • Cephalohematoma – Cephalohematoma is an injury that results in a buildup of blood under the membrane that protects the skull. These injuries typically go away on their own and don’t require any medical treatment.
  • Lack of sufficient oxygen – Deprivation of oxygen, or anoxia, during labor or delivery can result in serious medical conditions for babies. Lack of oxygen can happen for a variety of reasons, including umbilical cord problems and placenta abruption. Receiving insufficient oxygen can cause serious long-term conditions, including cerebral palsy.

How Can Birth Trauma Be Prevented?

There are some key aspects of pregnancy, labor, and delivery that, when carefully monitored, can help prevent birth traumas. When doctors fail to do these things, and the baby suffers injuries as a result, it may be considered medical malpractice, and the doctor may be held responsible for the error.

Some of the most important elements of birth trauma prevention are:

Providing Proper Prenatal Care

Doctors should provide comprehensive prenatal care, including ordering diagnostic tests, to monitor the condition of both mother and baby. Prenatal testing can identify conditions like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and maternal infections. Proper prenatal care will help doctors determine if there are any complications and whether the pregnancy is high-risk and needs more extensive care and monitoring.

Identifying and Addressing Signs of Fetal Distress

During pregnancy, labor, and delivery, the mother and child should be monitored for any indication of fetal distress, which can mean that the baby isn’t getting sufficient oxygen. The signs of fetal distress include:

  • Abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Reduced fetal movement
  • Abnormal volume of amniotic fluid
  • Abnormal Doppler flow study
  • Abnormal biophysical profile
  • Cramping or bleeding
  • Too much or too little maternal weight gain

Minimizing Risks of Premature Birth

There are times that premature birth is unavoidable. However, when doctors identify and mitigate the risk factors of the specific pregnancy, premature births can often be prevented. There are some medical interventions that doctors can employ to help mothers at risk of premature labor to carry their babies to term, including:

  • Cervical cerclage – This is a temporary stitch to help keep the cervix closed until the baby reaches a safe gestational age.
  • Progesterone – This is a hormone that helps maintain pregnancy.
  • Magnesium sulfate – This is an inorganic salt that helps suppress premature labor.

Recognizing When a C-Section is Needed

Some situations indicate that a C-section is necessary. When a doctor fails to recognize these situations or chooses to wait too long to perform a C-section, the mother and baby are at risk of complications. Some of the signs that a C-section may be necessary include:

  • Prolonged or arrested labor
  • Fetal distress
  • Umbilical cord compression
  • Umbilical cord prolapse
  • Placental abruption
  • Placenta previa
  • Uterine rupture
  • Maternal infection
  • Macrosomia
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD)

When Is Birth Trauma Considered Medical Malpractice?

It’s vital to expectant mothers and babies that medical professionals follow the standards of care when dealing with pregnancy, labor, and delivery problems.

Babies who suffer injuries as a result of birth trauma can require a lifetime of medical care. For parents, birth injuries suffered by their child can be devastating, financially and emotionally. When birth trauma injuries could have been prevented but occurred due to the negligence or mistake of a medical professional, parents may be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the responsible party.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have a team of Ivy League-educated doctors right on staff to consult on birth injury cases. They have the knowledge to carefully review medical records and determine if there was negligence involved. We also have expert attorneys with unmatched track records of winning multimillion-dollar recoveries for families who have suffered the negative impact of a traumatic birth.

No other law firm has recovered more for injured Pennsylvania children over the past five years.

Let Ross Feller Casey help with your birth trauma claim. Contact our offices today to schedule a free case evaluation.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.