Pennsylvania Birth Injury Attorneys
Umbilical cord prolapse is a complication that happens prior to or during delivery, when the umbilical cord falls through the open cervix into the vagina ahead of the baby. The cord can then become trapped against the baby’s body, compressing the cord and cutting off oxygen and blood flow to the baby. This can lead to fetal hypoxia and resultant brain damage, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. In the worst cases it can even end in death.
According to the Mayo Clinic, umbilical cord prolapse occurs in 1 out of every 300 births. This is an emergency situation, requiring quick action on the part of the presiding physician — with research recommending that no more than 12 minutes elapse between the first signs of fetal distress and an emergency C-section.
What Causes Umbilical Cord Prolapse
The most common cause of umbilical cord prolapse is a premature rupture of the membranes that contain the amniotic fluid, which surrounds and protects the fetus while it is growing in the uterus. In cases where this rupture occurs before the 32-week mark, cord compression often results.
Other contributing factors include:
- Premature birth
- Multiple pregnancy
- Abnormally long umbilical cord
- Excessive amniotic fluid
- Breech delivery or other abnormal presentation
What Good Doctors Should Watch For
Cases of overt prolapse are easy to diagnose — the cord will be visible or able to be felt by medical staff before the presenting part of the baby gets delivered. With occult prolapse, the cord descends alongside the presenting part of the baby. This can require more careful observation, accomplished by monitoring fetal heart rate and taking appropriate action for any signs of fetal distress, like a sudden and prolonged heart rate deceleration.
Before labor, an ultrasound or fetal Doppler can be used to identify a prolapsed or compressed cord. Though the signs of prolapse during childbirth may be confused for other delivery complications, an attentive medical staff will be prepared to make an emergency C-section regardless.
The Dangers of Umbilical Cord Prolapse
Umbilical cord compression and prolapse can have serious implications for a newborn. The consequences may include:
- Permanent brain damage
- Cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Cognitive deficits
What to Hold Doctors Accountable For
Competent physicians should be able to diagnose umbilical cord prolapse before it becomes an issue, and implement an emergency C-section with minimal risk to the child. The standard of care requires a fetal heart monitor, with careful attention paid to the baby’s heart rate through childbirth — not using one can be termed as negligence.
When prolapse is detected, attending physicians may attempt to deliver the baby vaginally, sometimes with the help of forceps or a vacuum extractor. But often an emergency C-section will be indicated, and attempting vaginal delivery is no excuse for a delayed C-section. Doctors should be prepared for every eventuality.
To prove medical negligence, it must be clearly established that a birth injury was the result of a breach of care on the part of the attending physician. Most often, establishing medical negligence requires the testimony of an expert medical witness, able to verify that the defendants’ conduct fell short of the accepted medical standard, and that this lapse in care was responsible for the infant’s injury.
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When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
With birth injuries stemming from umbilical cord prolapse, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Purtell as soon as possible. Although filing suit may seem like a secondary concern when dealing with an infant’s health, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law state that birth injury cases must be filed within two years from the date of injury — other states set their statutes of limitations as short as one year for such cases.
With 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Purtell is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis.