Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is a diagnosis of neurological dysfunction. During labor and delivery, a baby may suffer brain damage due to insufficient oxygen to the brain. In some circumstances a child may also develop cerebral palsy which causes a lifetime of disabilities and loss of gross motor skills.
Certain conditions during labor and delivery can increase the risk of an ischemic injury to a child, including a compressed umbilical cord or the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid. Additionally, maternal conditions such as a ruptured uterus, eclampsia, or a hyperstimulated uterus can interrupt oxygen flow to the baby’s brain.
During labor and delivery, the frequency and strength of a mother’s contractions are measured with a fetal monitor. This same device also measures a baby’s well-being by monitoring his/her heart rate. Physicians, nurses and midwives must be trained to interpret fetal monitoring tracings to recognize ominous signs of fetal distress. If members of the labor and delivery team cannot adequately interpret fetal monitoring tracings, there is a risk of an untimely response to signs of oxygen deprivation and injury to the baby. Unfortunately, the longer a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen, the greater potential for injury. The focal point of the investigation of these cases is usually (a) were signs of fetal distress timely recognized and (b) was a timely cesarean section undertaken to prevent harm to the child.
Studies demonstrate that medical providers rarely report medical errors despite their legal and ethical obligation to do so. Additionally, because newborns cannot communicate and they are at their most undeveloped at birth, it is not always readily apparent that a baby suffered a neurological injury during labor and delivery. Events and evidence that can suggests that medical providers may have been concerned about the possibility of a birth injury include: (a) the performance of an unexpected cesarean section; (b) the need for supplemental oxygen following the baby’s birth; (c) unexpected prolonged hospitalization for the child; (d) an investigation into the neurological condition of the child shortly after birth through either an EEG, MRI or CT scan of the brain; (e) the development of seizures or tremors shortly after birth and (f) unexpected medications prescribed for the child at the time of discharge.
At Starr Gern, I work with a nationally known OBGYNs, neonatologists, pathologists and pediatric neurologists to investigate and prosecute traumatic birth injury cases. If you have questions about whether your child may have been injured through inadequate monitoring or an untimely cesarean section, call us to set up an appointment to discuss your case.