Childbirth is usually a wonderful experience. Sometimes, however, mothers suffer serious injuries during childbirth that may have been preventable with appropriate medical care. Such injuries can be so severe that they may prevent the mother from having more children.
A woman who experiences significant injuries during childbirth may be asking herself, “Why did this happen to me?” or “Could this have been avoided?” During the past couple of years, with restrictions on who can be present during labor and childbirth, families may have even more unanswered questions. If you were injured before, during, or shortly after childbirth, you may have these or other questions.
The birth injury lawyers at Morris James understand how difficult this time can be. We know how frustrating it is to seek answers and, when the medical professionals fail to answer them, feel like the door is slammed in your face. We make it our mission to help these families find answers. And, in cases where medical negligence caused a birth injury, we help families obtain the financial compensation that they deserve.
What is a birth injury to a mother?
A birth injury is an injury to a mother or baby that occurs before, during, or shortly after childbirth. Although most people think of babies when they hear birth injury, mothers can also suffer serious injuries during pregnancy and childbirth. This post will focus on birth injuries to a mother.
What are some common complications of labor and delivery?
Pregnancy, labor, and delivery put a lot of stress on the mother’s body. As a result, there are a number of complications that can occur. Some of the common complications of labor and delivery, according to the National Institute of Health, include:
- Labor that does not progress. A health care provider may give the woman medications to increase contractions and speed up labor if it is not progressing, or they may perform a Cesarean delivery. Various terms may be used to describe a labor that is not progressing normally, including, “prolonged labor”, “labor dystocia”, “protracted labor”, “arrest of labor”.
- Perineal tears. A woman's vagina and the surrounding tissues are likely to tear during the delivery process. More serious tears or episiotomies (a surgical cut between the vagina and anus) may require stitches.
- Abnormal heart rate of the baby. Sometimes an abnormal heart rate of the baby will make it necessary to deliver the baby right away, which makes a Cesarean delivery and/or episiotomy more likely.
- Water breaking early. This is sometimes referred to as “prolonged rupture of membranes.” If labor doesn’t begin on its own within 24 hours of water breaking, labor is often induced. Infection can occur if the water breaks early and if labor does not begin on its own.
- Excessive bleeding. Heavy bleeding can result after delivery, either due to tears in the uterus or due to failure to deliver the placenta. Worldwide, such bleeding is a leading cause of maternal death.
In addition to the above, the following severe complications may occur during pregnancy and/or childbirth.
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia is “a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and usually the presence of protein in the urine. Early recognition of preeclampsia symptoms can save your life.”
Symptoms that may be signs of preeclampsia include:
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath or burning behind the sternum
- Nausea and vomiting
- A heightened state of anxiety, and/or visual disturbances such as oversensitivity to light, blurred vision, or seeing flashing spots or auras.
Although most women with preeclampsia and their babies fully recover, some women can experience severe, and even life-threatening, complications. If a preeclampsia diagnosis is delayed, or if the care for this condition is mismanaged, both the mother and baby can suffer serious injury and even death.
Uterine rupture is as awful as it sounds: the wall of a woman’s uterus breaks open. There may be many reasons for this, but when this occurs, the mother and baby can suffer permanent physical damage and, in rare cases, death.
Causes of uterine rupture include:
- The uterus stretching too far to accomodate a large baby or more than one baby
- A version procedure, where a doctor manually repositions a fetus still in the womb
- Previous perforation of the uterus
- Decreased uterine function after multiple pregnancies
- Excessive contractions
- Use of prostaglandins during a vaginal delivery following a previous cesarean section
A doctor can take measures to protect both the mother and the baby from harm if uterine rupture is predicted or detected early. Warning signs of a uterine rupture include:
- Sudden, severe uterine pain
- Uterine contractions that don’t cease
- Regression of the baby in the womb, including a decreased heart rate
- Fetal distress
- Severe bleeding or hemorrhaging
Failure to properly predict or treat uterine rupture can result in severe harm and even death to both the mother and the child.
Infections during pregnancy can lead to complications, including injuries to both the mother and the baby. Some examples of infections that may occur during pregnancy or after childbirth include:
- a urinary tract infection or yeast infection
- bacterial vaginosis
- group B Streptococcus
- hepatitis B virus, which can spread to the baby during birth
- Zika virus
If a mother develops any of these infections during pregnancy or after childbirth, it is imperative that they are detected in a timely manner and treated appropriately. If not, the mother and her baby can suffer severe injuries, including pain, damage to organs, brain damage, or even death.
Complications from a Cesarean delivery
Cesarean delivery, also known as C-section, is a very common and generally safe procedure. However, as with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with C-sections. As a result, complications can arise and sometimes can cause serious injury to the mother.
Examples of complications that can lead to severe or catastrophic injury from a cesarean delivery include:
- Postpartum hemorrhage. Postpartum hemorrhage refers to heavy bleeding after giving birth.
- Placenta accreta. Placenta accreta occurs when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall.
- Hysterectomy. Certain complications of cesarean delivery (usually connected to severe bleeding) may require the doctor to remove the uterus to save the mother’s life.
- Blood clots. Formation of blood clots in the mother’s legs or pelvic area can break off and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism or death.
- Complications from anesthesia.
If any of these complications are not recognized and treated appropriately, they can lead to catastrophic injuries to the mother.
Retained products of conception
Sometimes, after birth, fetal or placental tissue remains in the uterus. When this happens, the materials left in the uterus are called retained products of conception (RPOC). RPOC can cause a mother to have abnormal vaginal bleeding, fever, infection, or other symptoms. To avoid or treat these issues, it is important for the medical professionals to recognize that RPOC may remain in the mother’s uterus and remove them. Although most women who have RPOC can have this condition treated by medication or surgery without long-term complications or injuries, in some cases, when RPOC are not addressed timely and appropriately, the mother can suffer scarring that can affect fertility or future pregnancies. Other times, when RPOC are not handled appropriately, the mother may suffer chronic pain, develop infections, or suffer other injuries.
How do I know if my complication and injuries were normal or due to medical negligence?
Birth injuries may cause not only pain and injury to the mother, but they could also prevent the ability to have future children or increase risks of harm in future pregnancies. Sometimes, when these complications occur, the injuries that the mother suffers as a result may be expected and normal. But, just because a complication is common does not mean that the mother’s injury should occur as a result. If a woman has a lasting injury that occured before, during, or after giving birth, she deserves answers about how and why that injury occurred and to learn if it was caused by medical negligence. In situations where the medical malpractice of a medical provider caused a preventable injury to a mother during pregnancy or childbirth, she and her family may have a claim for medical malpractice.
If you or your family member was injured before, during, or shortly after childbirth, we may be able to help you find the answers that you seek.
Our attorneys at Morris James are available to talk to you about your rights and the options that you have at this difficult time. Contact us online or call into one of our local Morris James offices in Delaware to find out more.
We will fiercely advocate for our clients, going to trial when necessary, to obtain the financial compensation that you and your family need to regain stability and security after a birth injury.
At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have other questions about a birth injury, you may find answers in our Birth Injury FAQs, or you can contact us online or call us at 302.655.2599 to learn more.