Hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) to the fetus during labor and delivery is a major cause of permanently injured babies. The condition is sometimes noted as “hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy” (or “HIE”) and the result is often cerebral palsy to one degree or another. Infants suffering from these conditions often have low Apgar scores at birth, appear “dusky” and/or lethargic and may require resuscitative efforts. Various signs and symptoms appear and the babies fail to meet developmental milestones. The resulting conditions can range from mild and manageable to devastating.
There are also many medical authorities who are beginning to show a relationship between prolonged, difficult labor and delivery and other conditions such as neo-natal stroke (a stroke suffered by the baby immediately before or after birth). Babies with neonatal stroke often present normally at birth but suffer a seizure or seizures within a few days, often leading to tests, such as MRI or CAT scans, which confirm the stroke. Babies who have suffered neo-natal strokes sometimes compensate and do relatively well, even meeting later normal milestones. Others, unfortunately, do not. Sometimes there is extensive and permanent damage to critical areas of the brain leading to lifelong, profound disabilities.
The source of these problems can often be found in labor and delivery records which show excessive use of labor inducing drugs such as Pitocin, oxytocin, misoprostol, and/or Cytotec. Those drugs, and others, stimulate the uterus to contract and can lead to contractions which are too strong (“hypertonus”) or too frequent (“uterine tachysystole”).
Of course, uterine contractions are a normal and necessary part of the labor and delivery process. However, during each contraction, the baby is stressed and blood flow may be interrupted by the mechanical forces of the contraction. During normal labor and delivery, the contractions are moderate in strength and well-spaced, giving the fetus time to recover between contractions. Sometimes, especially with overuse of stimulating drugs, the contractions become too strong and too frequent and the baby does not get sufficient recovery opportunities, leading to hypoxia or other problems. Injury may even be caused by overly strong contractions which literally force the infant’s head and skull against the pubic bone and other parts of the birth canal not yet ready for delivery.
Fortunately, nearly every modern labor and delivery department uses electronic fetal heart rate monitoring devices (“EFM”) which create a permanent record (called a “fetal monitor strip”) of the infant’s heart rate and the mother’s contraction pattern. That record, together with the hospital’s medication records, can often be used to show when and how the fetus was overly stressed and injured.
The lifetime costs of caring for a child born with these conditions can be overwhelming. If your child is suffering from one of these conditions, especially if your labor was prolonged or difficult and/or induced, you owe it to your child to investigate thoroughly. Even though statutes of limitations are relatively short for medical malpractice and may have already run for claims belonging to you as the parent of an injured baby, most people do not realize that (at least in most states) the statute of limitation does not run against children until they reach adulthood. Thus, your child may have claims of his or her own that can be legally asserted many years after the events which caused the injury. If you think your baby may have been injured during delivery, call one of the medical malpractice and birth injury attorneys at Johnson Tabor & Johnson Law today for a free consultation.
Tom Johnson has been practicing law for more than 40 years. Much of Johnson's career has been spent in federal courts all across the United States and has involved complex litigation in the healthcare industry. Johnson has also appeared on national television and quoted in national publications as a leading authority on a myriad of topics in the healthcare space.