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What Can Go Wrong During a C-Section?

Doctors performing a C-Section on a patient in an operating room.

Doctors need to be mindful of safety during surgical delivery

Nearly one-third of all babies born in the United States are delivered by caesarean section (C-section). C-sections are common because they are medically indicated in many circumstances — for instance, if labor is not progressing, the baby is abnormally positioned, the birth canal is obstructed, or the mother has had a previous C-section and doesn't want to attempt vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC).

But while C-sections are performed every day, they aren't always safe. A C-section is a major surgery, and as with any major surgery, there is always a risk of complications. That's why doctors need to practice safe, effective, evidence-based medicine when delivering babies surgically — and why they need to be held accountable when they don't.

Possible risks associated with a C-section

Some of the complications that can occur during or after a C-section include:

  • Adverse reactions to anesthesia: Most C-sections are performed under regional anesthesia (that is, the patient remains awake and only the lower part of the body is numb), although emergency C-sections may require general anesthesia (the patient is put to sleep). Either way, the mother may have an allergic reaction or other adverse reaction to the anesthetics.
  • Surgical injuries: During a C-section, surgeons can nick the baby's skin or injure the mother's bladder or bowel. Additional surgery may be needed to repair certain surgical injuries.
  • Postpartum hemorrhage: Heavy bleeding can occur either during or after a caesarean delivery.
  • Infection: C-sections can make the mother vulnerable to infection at the incision site or in the lining of the uterus (endometritis).
  • Blood clots: A caesarean delivery may increase the mother's risk of developing blood clots, which can cause serious complications like deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism (which can be life-threatening).
  • Breathing problems in the baby: Babies born by C-section are at an increased risk of developing transient tachypnea, which causes abnormally fast breathing in the first few days after birth.
  • Risk to future pregnancies: C-sections can raise the probability of serious complications in future pregnancies and deliveries, including placenta previa, placenta accreta, and uterine rupture.

Again, despite these risks, a C-section is the best option for the baby and the mother in some circumstances. Indeed, many birth injuries are a result of a delayed C-section or failure to order a C-section when medically indicated. Doctors need to weigh the risks of a C-section against the risks of waiting too long to intervene, such as hypoxia (the baby's brain not getting enough oxygen) or injury during labor and delivery.

What this does mean is that medical professionals need to be mindful of the risks and communicate them to patients. Mothers who choose an elective C-section need to make a fully informed choice. Doctors who perform C-sections need to follow standards of care, including monitoring the mother's and baby's vital signs throughout the procedure, checking for allergies and medication interactions before administering anesthesia, following infection control protocols, and so on.

Victims of C-section errors have legal recourse

We don't expect doctors to be perfect, but we do expect them to follow established standards of care and avoid preventable errors. If you or your child was harmed by an avoidable C-section error, then you have legal recourse. Give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.

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