Too many babies are being born prematurely. That’s why November has been dedicated to the world’s most fragile beings – premature babies. To honor the 1 in 10 babies born prematurely in the U.S. each year, this month is dedicated to the knowledge and awareness that could possibly save their lives. While the rates of premature births have decreased over the last several years, due to improved medical care, there is still much more work to be done.
Worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely. According to the CDC, more infants die from prematurity than from any other cause. Not only that, prematurity can cause a number of ailments, illnesses, injuries and long-term health effects in children. When children are born prematurely, there are a number of potential complications that can occur.
Complications Associated with Prematurity
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) – brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen
- Hearing loss
- Feeding problems
- Low immune function
- Brain bleeds
- Intellectual disabilities
- Seizure disorders
- Motor disorders
- Developmental delays – a child’s failure to meet physical and/or mental milestones by a certain age
- Microcephaly – a smallness of the head, due to lack of oxygen (HIE), causing underdevelopment in the brain
- Cerebral palsy – a group of non-motor conditions that can cause physical and mental disabilities
- Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) – a collapsing of the lungs that makes it difficult for the infant to breathe
- Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) – damage to the brain tissue due to HIE that may cause developmental delays, cerebral palsy or epilepsy later in life
- Meningitis – an infection that inflames the brain and/or spinal cord due to not timely getting antibiotics
- Sepsis – an infection that inflames the entire body
- Chorioamnionitis – an infection of the membranes and amniotic fluid in the womb
- Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Encephalitis – a viral infection in the brain that the mother can pass to the child during delivery
- Group B Streptococcus (BGS) – a bacterium of the gut and genital tract that the mother can pass to the child during delivery
The earlier a child is born, the higher the risk is for injury. In these cases, careful management is required by health care providers in order to avoid injury to premature babies. There are many ways that medical professionals can provide care which avoids injury from prematurity.
- Cervical Cerclage – A procedure where the cervix is stitched closed with sutures to help support the weight of the baby. Cerclages reinforce the cervical muscle and prevent prematurity. Often, cervixes are too short and need to be measured between 14 and 28 weeks into pregnancy. If the mother has had a preterm birth in the past, cerclages should be recommended and preformed.
- Progesterone – A hormone that the womb from contracting. It is usually used between 16 and 20 weeks into pregnancy, and can last up until 36 weeks. If a woman has a history of preterm birth, a short cervix, or is pregnant with twins, progesterone therapy is recommended to prolong pregnancy and avoid prematurity.
- Betamethasone (BMZ) – A commonly used steroid that can help the growth of tissues in the baby’s body. If a baby is at risk for premature birth, physicians must order steroids to prevent problems, including, Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS), Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL), sepsis and brain bleeds.
- Magnesium sulfate – A medication that has direct and indirect effects on the brain. If a baby is at risk for being born prematurely, the physician must give the medication in utero and prevent injury from occurring. Magnesium sulfate has been shown to greatly reduce the risk for cerebral palsy in premature babies.
Instances of Medical Malpractice that Can Cause Prematurity
- If a medical professional does not test for risk factors, signs and symptoms of prematurity.
- If a medical professional does not order cerclage, progesterone, steroids and magnesium sulfate when prematurity signs and symptoms are present.
- If a medical professional fails to timely diagnose and treat infections in the baby, resulting in encephalitis, meningitis or sepsis.
- If a medical professional fails to timely deliver when the baby is suffering from lack of oxygen to the brain.
- If a medical professional improperly uses delivery tools, such as forceps, or vacuum extractors.
- If a medical professional mismanages ventilators and over ventilates.
- If a medical professional fails to timely give surfactant injections.
- If a medical professional does not diagnose or treat conditions and infections in the mother which can lead to preterm birth.
Prematurity can be devastating for any family. Read more on the complications and possible solutions associated with premature birth here, and call Reiter & Walsh, P.C. for more information. If your child was born prematurely, and cerebral palsy or another birth injury occurred, you could have a case. With over 90 years of combined experience in birth injury law, we have the legal and medical knowledge to win your potential case. Call us for a free case review.