Your doctor didn’t cause your baby’s umbilical cord compression, but they should have detected it in order to avoid lasting harm
The human body is amazing.
The complexities are mind-boggling — the things our bodies can do are nothing short of miraculous. Take, for instance, childbirth. Childbirth is a lengthy process that involves almost every system of the human body. For a pregnant person, it usually feels like it involves every inch of the body, too.
In some ways, it does.
One of the most important parts of the body during childbirth is the umbilical cord. This is a small tube that connects the developing baby to the placenta. It carries the baby’s blood back and forth between the baby and the placenta. The cord begins to form at 5 weeks after conception and continues to grow until about 28 weeks into gestation. It ultimately reaches about 22 to 24 inches long, and it coils around itself as it grows.
The cord has 3 blood vessels: 2 arteries that carry waste from the baby to the placenta (where the waste transfers into the mother’s blood and is disposed of by her kidneys) and a vein that carries oxygen and nutrients from the placenta to the baby.
Sometimes, a cord abnormality can lead to complications during pregnancy, labor or delivery.
Umbilical cord compression is when the blood flow is obstructed due to pressure from an external object or because of misalignment of the cord. This happens in about 1 in 10 deliveries.
A baby can survive a short period of umbilical cord compression, but if blood flow is cut off for more than a brief time, the baby could suffer severe and permanent birth injuries.
Common conditions caused by umbilical cord compression
When the umbilical cord is compressed and the flow of blood and nutrients is restricted or cut off, the baby’s heart rate will decrease and the compression can result in an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood. This creates a condition called respiratory acidosis, which results in the blood being unable to clear the carbon dioxide that’s naturally produced in the body, leading to respiratory failure.
Cord compression can also lead to a brain injury called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), along with a variety of additional issues.
|Short-term impacts of oxygen deprivation||Long-term impacts of oxygen deprivation|
Other umbilical cord complications
Umbilical cord prolapse is similar to compression. It happens during labor because the cord descends into the birth canal alongside the baby. This applies pressure that restricts blood and oxygen flow, similarly to compression. It results in the same health conditions and results as cord compression.
Nuchal cord is when the umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck. This includes the same risks as compression, but with the additional hazard that the cord could strangle the baby. Although nuchal cords are a serious problem that occurs in 20% to 30% of pregnancies, most will resolve on their own without medical intervention.
Umbilical cord compression diagnosis and treatment
A physician or other medical professional can use methods that include soundwaves (Doppler transducers), electronic fetal monitoring, auscultation (listening with a stethoscope), and ultrasound to diagnose an umbilical cord compression. Clues like abnormal heart rates and other anomalies are important in detecting a cord compression injury.
Sometimes, a minor compression can be easily remedied when the mother simply changes position, relieving the pressure and shifting the baby’s position in the womb. In a more serious situation, a doctor might perform amnioinfusion, which is when saline fluid is injected into the uterus to relieve pressure on the umbilical cord. In some cases, the doctor will increase the mother’s oxygen in order to improve blood flow through the cord.
If the cord is compressed to the point where the baby’s heart rate drops or there are other signs of distress, this requires an immediate Cesarean section (C-section). This is when the baby is surgically removed without progressing through the labor and vaginal delivery process.
Umbilical cord compression lawsuits
Medical malpractice is under the area of law known as personal injury. Medical malpractice applies to any instance where a doctor, nurse, dentist, or any other medical professional or staffer is negligent in their treatment or care of a patient.
This includes birth injury lawsuits.
Birth injury malpractice includes harm or injury to the baby or pregnant person during the course of pregnancy, labor and delivery, or immediately following birth.
Medical malpractice is when a medical professional or facility negligently causes injury to you or your baby. This might include:
- Failure to diagnose a condition or an incorrect diagnosis
- Misreading or misunderstanding lab results
- Conducting an unnecessary surgery
- Making a surgical or medical error
- Giving improper medication or dosage
- Providing incomplete or poor follow-up care
- Prematurely discharging you from care
A medical professional’s standard of care is the reasonable approach, practice, or procedure for a particular medical situation. Reasonableness is determined by what’s common and accepted in the local medical community. That means the standard of care might be different depending on where the treatment was provided. A physician or other medical professional has breached the standard of care if they failed to provide treatment consistent with the local standard.
In addition to breaching the standard of care, an injured plaintiff can make a claim that:
- The provider didn’t use their best judgment in determining treatment or care, or
- The provider failed to use reasonable care and diligence to apply their knowledge and skill to the patient’s treatment.
In many medical malpractice cases that don’t involve childbirth, the claim is because a provider caused the injury or harm.
In a case involving an umbilical cord compression, the doctor likely did not cause the condition. However, they are responsible for detecting, diagnosing, and following commonly accepted treatment procedures to avoid or minimize harm to the baby.
Damages for an umbilical cord compression injury
Umbilical cord compression can result in serious or lifelong injuries to your baby.
Damages are financial costs associated with a personal injury lawsuit. If your baby has suffered an injury because of malpractice that will result in ongoing treatment and other expenses throughout their lifetime, you’re entitled to recover those costs.
If you or your child were injured from a birth injury, you might be able to claim damages that include costs for:
- Medical expenses, including surgeries, hospital visits, doctor visits, diagnostic tests, prescription medications, and other costs.
- Caretaking and nursing care
- Assistive devices and equipment, like wheelchairs, hearing aids, braces or orthotic devices
- Home modifications such as wheelchair ramps or door expansions and vehicle modifications
- Respite care
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Mental and emotional anguish, pain and suffering, and other emotional distress
- Physical rehabilitation
- Specialized educational needs
- Loss of capacity to earn a living
Birth injury statutes of limitations
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. In many states, there are different statutes of limitations for injuries affecting children.
However, although the first few years of parenthood can be challenging — especially if your child has special needs — if you are going to file a lawsuit, you must do so within the allotted time or the court can refuse to hear your case.
What to do after a birth injury
Some birth injuries go undetected for months or years after a baby arrives. They also might be mistaken for other spinal cord injuries or neurological disorders.
You should investigate the possibility of a birth injury if your child has 1 or more of these conditions:
- They cannot move one of their limbs.
- They have vision or hearing problems.
- They prefer one arm or hand over the other.
- There are muscle tone issues like stiffness or weakness.
- They miss key milestones like rolling over, smiling, standing, etc.
If you’re concerned about your child’s development for these or other reasons, the first step is to seek medical treatment. Usually, the doctor who delivers babies (an obstetrician) is different from the physician who oversees their care post-birth. Since a birth injury is usually caused during the labor and delivery process, your child’s pediatrician is likely a good person to ask for their unbiased opinion about the cause of your child’s medical issues.
If your doctor or a specialist believes that your baby has a birth injury that might’ve been caused by medical malpractice, you need to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. These cases are among the most complex scientific lawsuits before the courts. It’s important to find a lawyer who understands the complexities of this particular type of case and who’s familiar with the medical situation and established practices for labor and delivery.
Your lawyer should thoroughly investigate whether malpractice occurred, to what extent the physician or provider is liable, how to prove the malpractice, and determine how much you should be awarded in compensation for your baby’s injuries.
Consult the Enjuris law firm directory to find a lawyer near you who specializes in birth injury lawsuits.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.