Most births in the United States are complication-free. However, approximately 5 to 7 out of every 1,000 births results in some sort of birth trauma. Many of these are a result of errors by physicians, nurses, or other healthcare providers. The following is a list of the most common labor and delivery errors and the possible resulting birth injury:
- Failure to monitor or detect problems with fetal heart rate, oxygen levels or other fetal vital signs. Too many fetal heart rate decelerations during labor and poor oxygenation during labor and birth can lead to birth injuries such as, cerebral palsy, brain damage from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) or birth asphyxia, or seizures.
- Failure to order a timely C-section. Laboring too long and delaying a C-section can lead to cerebral palsy, erb’s palsy, shoulder dystocia or brain damage.
- Incorrect or inappropriate use of a delivery tool. A parent should be consulted of the risks prior to the use of a delivery tool, such as forceps or a vacuum. A parent’s decision for a C-section should be respected. If a delivery tool is used there is a risk for cerebral or intracranial hemorrhage, hematomas, seizures, brain damage or facial paralysis.
- Incorrect medication or incorrect dose. Any medications given before, during or after labor (such as Pitocin or Morphine) must be appropriately prescribed and monitored. An incorrect dose can lead to seizures, uterine rupture, hemorrhages or retinal hemorrhages.
- Failure to identify or treat infections. A woman with an infection such as Group B strep, e-coli, herpes simplex virus (HSV), or any sexually transmitted disease (STD) must be appropriately treated during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Otherwise, these infections can be transmitted to the baby or cause meningitis and encephalitis.
- Failure to diagnose potential birth complications. A simple ultrasound can detect potential complications such as breech position or cephalo-pelvic disproportion – when a mother’s pelvis is too small or a baby’s head is too large. Allowing a vaginal delivery under these conditions can lead to erb’s palsy or shoulder dystocia.
- Incorrect or inappropriate delivery techniques. Any prolonged pulling or pushing during the delivery has the potential to cause brain damage, erb’s palsy or shoulder dystocia.
Often times parents who sensed that something went wrong during their labor and delivery are usually right. But was it a preventable medical error?
If a child is diagnosed with any of the conditions mentioned in this article, it merits further investigation to be sure Standards of Medical Practice were followed to ensure patient safety. A personal injury attorney well-versed in medical malpractice should review the circumstances of the labor and delivery to determine if there was negligence.