About 20,000 babies are delivered by Caesarian section every year in Kentucky. Many of those procedures are planned in advance, since doctors can identify risk factors in either the mother or baby that could complicate a vaginal delivery.
Sometimes, though, emergencies occur during labor or delivery that require an unplanned C-section. When these circumstances arise, medical staff must act quickly. If a C-section is delayed for too long, there could be major health complications for the mother and birth injuries that affect the child’s health forever.
Reasons for an emergency C-section
An emergency C-section may become necessary if:
- The baby is in distress. When a baby’s heart rate drops too low, it’s a sign that the fetus isn’t getting enough oxygen (known as birth hypoxia). If doctors don’t act immediately, this lack of oxygen can lead to serious brain damage.
- Labor fails to progress. A woman’s cervix may not dilate, or labor might stop entirely.
- The placenta covers the mother’s cervix, a condition called placenta previa. This blocks the baby’s way out of the womb.
- The placenta separates from the uterus before birth. Known as placental abruption, this can deprive the baby of oxygen and cause serious bleeding that endangers both mother and child.
- Umbilical cord complications. The cord may drop through the cervix ahead of the baby, cutting off his blood supply.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that most emergency C-sections be performed within 30 minutes of the doctor deciding it is necessary.
Doctor negligence and C-section delay
When medical personnel allow a mother or child to remain in distress for too long during labor or delivery, devastating and lifelong injuries can result.
One of the most common medical mistakes leading to a delayed C-section occurs when medical staff fails to properly monitor the baby for distress. Fetal monitoring strips help doctors and nurses see if the baby is receiving enough blood and oxygen supply to remain healthy. If the strips reveal that the baby’s heart rate is dropping but medical personnel ignore the signs, the baby can go without oxygen. Even a few minutes of oxygen deprivation can lead to brain damage.
Doctors and hospitals may also fail to perform a timely C-section if:
- The doctor does not recognize a medical condition in the mother that would have required a pre-planned C-section.
- The staff delays the mother’s relocation to the operating room for the procedure.
- The hospital is understaffed and medical personnel aren’t available to assist in monitoring and performing the C-section.
- Insurance problems delay the hospital’s decision to go forward with the surgery.
If doctor negligence led to a delayed C-section and the mother or child suffered injuries as a result, a malpractice attorney with medical experience in neonatal care can help the family understand their legal options.
Birth injuries from delayed C-section
Most emergency C-sections occur because the fetus is in distress and can’t get enough oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can lead to many lifelong injuries, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
- Brain damage
- Developmental delays
- Hearing loss and/or blindness
C-section delays can also cause nerve damage when the baby is in physical distress for too long. Shoulder dystocia, an emergency in which the shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone, can result in Erb’s palsy and affect a child’s mobility.
Guidelines for a timely C-section
A study published by the National Institutes of Health focused on identifying the optimal response by hospital staff if an emergency C-section becomes necessary. Researchers gave seven recommendations for avoiding C-section delays:
- Ensure a complete team of medical staff is available at all times, particularly at night.
- Clearly define the steps that will be taken once the decision is made to perform the emergency C-section. This will improve communication and save precious time between decision and delivery.
- Consider the value of performing the procedure in the delivery room. Sometimes, the trip from the delivery room to the operating room leaves the baby and/or mother in distress for too long.
- Increase efficiency by being flexible during the decision-making process. Take into account level of distress, nearby availability of staff, and location of operating room.
- Practice drills that will familiarize medical staff with their responsibilities in the event of an emergency C-section.
- Ensure the hospital architecture is functional to avoid delays.
- Enact regular training programs so the obstetrical team knows how to diagnose fetal distress and maternal complications early.
Ask Dr. Jack Tolliver about your delayed C-section
Dr. Jack Tolliver is a successful physician and medical malpractice lawyer who understands the complexities of both hospitals and courtrooms.
If you or a loved one experienced a delayed C-section that resulted in injury to the mother or child, we encourage you to contact our firm and learn more. With our team’s medical experience, we can thoroughly and quickly review your case at no charge. If we accept your case, we will pursue maximum compensation. We never pass on costs and expenses if we do not recover damages.