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Medical responsibility for birth injuries

A parent receiving news her or his baby suffered an adverse event during birth is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in any hospital. A mother immediately worries she may have done something to harm the baby's formation or health. Perhaps she could have taken more vitamins or worked out less at the gym. The initial shock of hearing bad news does not prepare parents for the stressful aftermath.

Questions of personal responsibility may, in light of further information, change to questions of medical concern. Did something go wrong during the labor or delivery? Who performed the delivery? Were protocols followed? Was the operating room ready, and were necessary personnel on standby?  

Normal injuries in childbirth deliveries

The birth process is necessarily intense. It puts stress on the mother's entire system as well as on the baby's body. It takes tremendous force from the pressure of contractions to move the baby through the birth canal. Vaginal births can result in minor bruising or small skin lacerations to the infant. These are normal and will heal.

Preventable injuries

There are areas where a doctor has the responsibility to identify and treat preventable injuries. Some of these cases include:

  • Diagnostic failure: A doctor should have tested for vitamin deficiencies or infections, or realized the need for medical intervention during long, hard labor when a baby could aspirate and develop breathing difficulties.
  • Delivery trauma injury: Doctors can cause birth injuries in difficult deliveries by improper use of vacuum extraction or forceps. Severe nerve damage and broken bones can result in the infant when a doctor is not skilled.
  • Medication errors: Doctors have the responsibility to be aware of any risks associated with prescribing medication for a woman to take during pregnancy.
  • Brain injury: Cerebral palsy can result when an umbilical cord issue causes oxygen deprivation. The doctor should immediately reposition the cord, or if she is unable to do so, she should perform emergency surgery to prevent brain injury.

Parental right to information

If parents are uneasy or have questions about the birth and delivery process or the behavior of any hospital staff member, they are legally entitled to receive clearly delivered information promptly. If a baby appears to be in difficulty, a parent has the right to insist the doctor or another obstetrician immediately examines the infant. Parents can ask for additional testing, scans (CT, MRI) or other diagnostic measures. If the doctor or hospital refuses, the parents can ask them to indicate in writing their reason for not performing further tests. In all cases where the suspicion of medical negligence exists, even if a doctor or hospital states they are not responsible, parents can seek immediate help from a legal professional who understands birth injury and medical responsibility.

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