The umbilical cord is a vital connection between mother and child in the womb.
Understanding umbilical cord complications is crucial during pregnancy. Problems with the umbilical cord are relatively rare but not unheard of. Routine ultrasound testing during pregnancy reveals many more common umbilical cord issues. Suppose your unborn baby is diagnosed with an umbilical cord abnormality, such as umbilical cord avulsion. Umbilical cord avulsion occurs when the umbilical cord tears, ruptures, or is compressed during labor. Your doctor should take steps to consider risk factors, monitor the baby, and diagnose the problem in a timely manner. Immediate action, including emergency surgery, is essential to prevent birth injuries and even death.
Before we talk about problems that can develop with the umbilical cord, let’s take a quick look at a baby’s support system in the womb.
As a fetus grows in a mother’s uterus, a fluid-filled sac (the amniotic sac) forms around it. A jelly-filled tube with three blood vessels (the umbilical cord) connects the fetus to an organ that forms on the wall of the uterus (the placenta).
How do these special structures work together to support a growing baby?
Although umbilical cord issues are relatively rare, a few problems commonly occur when issues arise.
A full or partial break in the umbilical cord—also known as an umbilical cord avulsion or a ruptured umbilical cord—is a rare but severe complication of childbirth.
Cord avulsions most often occur because of the following:
Almost all umbilical cord ruptures occur during the process of childbirth, not while a baby is developing in the mother’s uterus.
If a condition like vasa previa or a prolapsed umbilical cord exists, a doctor might opt to deliver a baby via c-section rather than risk a cord avulsion during delivery.
The most common sign of a break in the umbilical cord while a mother is in labor is vaginal bleeding. An obstetrician should immediately perform an examination to determine the source of the bleeding—mother or child. A small volume of blood may represent a minor loss for a mother but could be life-threatening or cause brain damage in the child. The best treatment is likely to be immediate delivery of the baby via c-section.
Infant death is one tragic but possible result of umbilical cord issues during labor and delivery. Bleeding is the most common cause of umbilical cord–related mortality during delivery. For example, according to Marie Helen Beall, MD Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, there is a “50%–75% mortality rate” in cases where umbilical cord blood vessels rupture due to vasa previa.
The blood supply transported by the umbilical cord provides oxygen to a developing fetus, acting as a substitute for lung function until the baby can breathe independently. The brain is extremely sensitive to a lack of oxygen. Suppose the umbilical cord is compressed, torn, or completely severed during the birth process. The flow of blood and, consequently, the oxygen supply to a baby’s brain is cut off. This can result in varying degrees of brain damage or even death.
This type of brain damage is known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
Because the brain is the body’s center of operations, damage to the brain can have a wide range of effects. HIE can cause:
HIE and cerebral palsy are not diseases or progressive conditions. Rather, they involve one-time, permanent damage to the brain. Treatments are not aimed at repairing the damage but at supporting an affected child. Care may include:
Unfortunately, many birth injuries are unavoidable. But in some cases, they result from a health care practitioner’s negligence. In medicine, negligence is the failure to provide what Indiana law (844 IAC 5-2-5) calls “reasonable care.”
Reasonable care is the care that another doctor of the same or similar background would have provided in the same or similar circumstances. Suppose a doctor’s actions don’t live up to the standard of reasonable care, and your baby has a birth injury as a result. In that case, you may be able to receive compensation through a medical malpractice claim.
If you suspect that your baby’s death or brain damage resulted from your doctor’s negligence, we strongly encourage you to speak to an experienced birth injury attorney about your case.
When a baby has an umbilical cord issue that results in a birth injury, here are a few things that might be considered medical malpractice:
You can learn more about medical malpractice by reading our medical malpractice FAQ.
If you believe your infant was injured or died due to a healthcare practitioner’s negligence, the Indianapolis birth injury lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham can provide guidance regarding your case. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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