Delivering a baby is both common and highly technical for an obstetrician. As such, there are countless problems that can occur during the process, yet a doctor will have trained for many years to anticipate them. A prolapsed umbilical cord is one of the most common problems, but also one of the most potentially dangerous. Still, it is often grounds for a medical malpractice claim because its damage is largely preventable.
While there are many different problems that can occur with the umbilical cord, a prolapse is specifically when part of the cord slips down into the mother’s cervix before the baby makes an appearance during delivery. This can cause fetal hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which can lead to brain damage and in very rare cases, stillbirth. It only occurs in around 1 of 300 births, though some figures point to as few as 1 in 500.
Since a prolapse happens so quickly, most of the time the only warning will be the mother actually being able to feel the cord in the birth canal. Sometimes, signs of fetal distress can be seen on the heart monitor, but not always. Fetal monitoring is critical to be able to remove the cord in sufficient time to prevent injury – any medical professional who does not closely monitor the fetus is in breach of the prevailing standard of care.
The risk factors for a prolapse include breech birth (when the baby is situated feet first), hydramnios (too much amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus), and having either multiple babies or a premature birth. Any or all of these can increase your risk for a prolapse by up to 50%.
The most effective way to eliminate the risks posed by an umbilical cord prolapse is to order a cesarean delivery, and to do so quickly. There may be rare instances where a vaginal delivery will be faster, but the general rule is that a cesarean will be quicker and will put less pressure on the baby’s head. In your situation, it may be beneficial to try and get a sense of how far along your delivery is – if it is very close to completion, a vaginal delivery may be best.
If you are not in the hospital when the prolapse occurs, the accepted advice is to get on your hands and knees for as long as possible. This position reduces the gravitational pull on the baby’s head, and may prevent hypoxia from occurring for a short period of time.
It is important to keep in mind that while sometimes a prolapse is obvious, doctors cannot always distinguish between a prolapse and another source of fetal hypoxia. If the cord is under the baby, for example, no signs may show up on fetal monitoring at all. If there are signs visible that ought to tip a doctor off to a possible prolapse, a failure to diagnose may render them liable – but of course, no doctor can anticipate every issue.
If your child has been harmed by an umbilical cord prolapse, the birth injury attorneys at Meinhart, Smith & Manning, PLLC may be able to help. We have years of experience in the medical malpractice field, and we will do our best to get your family the compensation you are owed. Contact our Louisville office today for a free consultation.
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