Medical professionals need to follow standards of care during preterm labor and delivery.
While the average length of a pregnancy is 40 weeks, some babies are born sooner or later — and in some cases, significantly earlier. Preterm birth or preterm delivery is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 weeks have been completed. Premature babies, or "preemies," are at an elevated risk of serious birth injuries because their bodies are more fragile and their organs are not fully developed.
Doctors need to follow established standards of care to both reduce the risk of preterm delivery itself and to reduce the risks of birth injuries associated with preterm birth. When they do not meet that responsibility and babies are injured, their families have legal recourse through the civil justice system.
Why some babies are born prematurely
While the causes of premature labor are not always obvious, there are several risk factors that increase the probability of preterm birth, including but not limited to:
- A history of previous premature births
- A history of abortions
- Multiple fetuses (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Infections, including amniotic fluid infections, urinary tract infections, genital infections, and sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the mother
- Gestational diabetes
- Excessive amniotic fluid
- Kidney disease
- Clotting disorders
- Cervical abnormalities
- Mother is significantly overweight or underweight
- Very recent previous birth (less than nine months before the start of the current pregnancy)
Can a doctor prevent premature delivery?
Not all premature deliveries are preventable, and not all risk factors are something a doctor can treat. But there are absolutely steps that doctors can and should take to reduce the risk of preterm birth. Doctors need to recognize the warning signs of a possible early delivery, such as vaginal bleeding. They need to appropriately diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions that can increase the risk of preterm labor, such as infections, gestational diabetes, and excessive amniotic fluid. A doctor can also prescribe medications to stop the onset of preterm labor or prescribe bed rest to a mother at elevated risk of preterm labor.
The risks of birth injuries during premature delivery
There are two main reasons why babies who are born prematurely have an increased risk of birth injuries. First, premature babies' organs are not fully developed. In particular, the lungs are among the last vital organs to form during gestation, so premature babies are often unable to breathe on their own, leading to the risk of brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Depending on how premature they are, preemies may also have weaker immune systems, weaker blood vessels around the brain, and immature digestive systems that may not be able to absorb the nutrients their developing bodies need.
Second, when a baby is born prematurely, there is often an underlying medical condition such as an infection or preeclampsia that further increases the risk of birth injury.
This is why, in addition to reducing the risk of preterm birth in the first place, OB/GYNs and other medical professionals need to take appropriate, medically indicated steps to reduce the risk of a birth injury when a baby is born prematurely. This includes monitoring the baby's heart rate, prescribing appropriate medications, performing appropriate medical interventions (such as a C-section) promptly, and making sure the baby is cared for during the critical neonatal period.
If your child was injured, a birth injury lawyer can help
Premature delivery carries significant risks, but medical professionals who follow standards of care can do a great deal to mitigate those risks. If your child was born prematurely and now has a birth injury such as cerebral palsy, an experienced birth injury attorney can help. Contact the Lancione Law Firm today for a free consultation.