The birth of a child is supposed to be one of the most joyful times in the life of a family. For months, parents have dreamed about what their child would look like, picked out names, and furnished a space in their home for the new baby. Expectant parents spend a lot of time envisioning the future, but their daydreams typically don’t include a child with severe birth injuries, especially when the baby has been healthy throughout the pregnancy.

A woman in labor is monitored by her medical team to ensure that both she and the baby are doing well, that their vital signs are normal, and that labor is progressing appropriately. At various points, the OB/GYN and nurses need to make decisions about whether to intervene. Failure to progress, also known as “prolonged labor,” can lead to serious health complications for the mother, and birth injuries for the child.

Sometimes, a bad outcome is unavoidable, even when doctors, nurses, and others do everything in their power to ensure a healthy labor and delivery process. But often, birth injuries or maternal health complications are the result of medical malpractice.

Risks of Prolonged Labor

One of the decisions an obstetrician often needs to make is whether to allow a patient to continue laboring, or whether a c-section or other intervention is necessary. The decision turns on the facts of each case, including whether the mother has certain health conditions that would make prolonged labor dangerous, or whether the baby is exhibiting signs of fetal distress.

Many women would prefer to give birth vaginally without assistance, rather than by c-section or with the use of a vacuum extractor or forceps. While it is important to take a patient’s wishes into account, the physician is ultimately responsible for advising the patient when circumstances warrant intervention. An obstetrician who unnecessarily delays the decision for a c-section or other intervention may be responsible for serious and permanent harm.

Prolonged labor can lead to a number of health problems for mother and child, including:

  • Fetal distress from lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and prolonged pressure, which may lead to brain damage and stillbirth. Cerebral palsy is a birth injury that is often caused by deprivation of oxygen during the birth process.
  • The risk of infection, including sepsis, goes up when labor continues for an extended period after the membranes have ruptured (water breaks). A serious infection can be fatal for mother, infant, or both.
  • Postpartum hemorrhage: extended labor increases the risk of uterine atony (inadequate contraction), which can lead to potentially life-threatening hemorrhaging in the mother.

In addition, delaying the decision to perform a c-section or instrumental delivery can lead to maternal exhaustion, in which a laboring mother is unable to push effectively.

How Delayed Decisions Happen During Labor

A delayed decision during labor that leads to harm typically happens in one of two ways: either the laboring mother is not being appropriately monitored, or the physician responsible for her care does not appropriately interpret the data from maternal and fetal monitoring.

These situations can be complicated. The decision of whether to allow a woman to continue in labor or to intervene is often a judgment call. For instance, the benefits of an easier recovery from a vaginal birth must be weighed against the need for a c-section to expedite the birth and prevent complications. However, when a physician does not act as a reasonable doctor would under similar circumstances, and harm results to the patient, the physician may be liable for malpractice.

What to Do if Your Child Suffered a Birth Injury

If your child suffered a birth injury, it may not be immediately clear whether it was due to negligence on your doctor’s part. Even so, you should consider speaking with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A knowledgeable attorney can help you identify any potential claims you may have and their strengths and weaknesses.

However, no matter how strong a claim you may have, you only have a limited amount of time in which to make it. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims means that if you wait too long to file a claim, you will be unable to recover damages against your physician. Those damages may include such things as the cost of your child’s future medical care, therapy, wheelchairs and other equipment, and the support and assistance necessary to allow them to thrive as fully as possible.

To learn more about the dangers of prolonged labor and the birth injuries that are often associated with it, contact The Fraser Law Firm P.C. to schedule a consultation.