According to the American Pregnancy Association, premature labor happens in 12 percent of all pregnancies - but if it's your wife or other loved one who's going into labor before the baby is ready, the issue becomes bigger than statistics. It's personal, and sometimes, it's heartbreaking. One cause of premature deliveries that may have affected your wife, and that doctors need to evaluate, is an incompetent cervix.

What Is an Incompetent Cervix?

In a healthy pregnancy, the cervix remains long and closed until late in the third trimester. Only near the end of the pregnancy does it begin to soften, shorten and slightly open up, preparing for labor. For a woman with an incompetent cervix (i.e., cervical insufficiency), the cervix begins shortening and opening before it is supposed to - before the baby is ready. While there usually won't be contractions or other labor symptoms, this condition sometimes results in a second-trimester miscarriage or even a premature labor and delivery.

How Would I Know if my Wife Had an Incompetent Cervix?

In the past, doctors wouldn't test for and treat an incompetent cervix until a woman had lost two or three babies. Today, however they can do what's called a serial sonogram - something that lets them check for cervical length and ensure that everything is at the normal level (i.e., 3 centimeters or more). If the doctor finds that the cervix is too short, membranes are protruding into the internal part of the cervix (funneling) or that a woman has lost her baby in the past in the second trimester, she may have cervical insufficiency.

How Are Incompetent Cervixes Treated?

If in fact a woman has an incompetent cervix, the doctors can place a stitch, known as a cervical cerclage, that sutures around the cervix to try to close it off from membranes and/or keep it from shortening before it should. There are two types of sutures: McDonald's and Shirodkar, both of which try to keep the membranes that surround the baby from being exposed to the hostile vaginal environment. When properly placed and timed, the suture can be inserted with minimal to no effects on the pregnancy at all. We also offer medications that may help with this problem but the important thing is there should be an in depth discussion about alternatives and something should be attempted to try to prevent premature delivery.

If you believe your wife's premature delivery (or other labor and delivery complications) was caused by an incompetent cervix that wasn't diagnosed or was improperly treated, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Ross Feller Casey.

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