There are a number of medications provided during pregnancy and throughout labor and delivery that can help make the process safer, faster and less painful.
However, these same drugs that are intended to help can sometimes cause more harm than good.
Boston birth injury lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman understand that when obstetricians, anesthesiologists, pharmacists and nurses have a responsibility to carefully prescribe and administer these drugs, as well as to closely monitor both mother and fetus afterward.
Although any drug has the potential for complication if used improperly or in the incorrect doses, some medications associated with a substantial number of birth injury cases include:
- Pitocin – to induce pregnancy
- Demerol – for pain relief
- Fentanyl – for pain relief
- Morphine – for pain relief
These drugs may be administered:
- Subcutaneously (directly under the skin)
- Intramuscularly (into the muscle)
- Intravenously (into the veins)
- In an epidural (injection of medicine just outside sac of fluid around the spinal cord)
- In a spinal block (injection of medicine into the fluid in the spinal cord)
These are very powerful medications, and health care providers must use extreme caution where they are involved. When prescribed and used properly, these drugs can provide enormous relief to both mother and child, and help to facilitate a better birthing experience and ultimately, a healthy child.
However, the potential for error is great. Plus, sometimes the risk of certain medications may be too high considering the mother’s medical history.Anesthesia-Related Negligence
The anesthesiologist has one of the most important roles in labor and delivery. He or she must decide which drugs are best suited to the situation and individual.
Pain relief is an important aspect of childbirth, but it must be balanced with the health and well-being of the child.
Some potential issues of which anesthesiologists and other health care providers working with them should be fully aware:
- Low blood pressure/ hypotensive crisis. A significant drop in maternal blood pressure is fairly common when anesthesia is delivered via epidural or spinal block. In fact, it occurs in about one-third of all patients. Serious hypotension occurs in about 12 percent of all patients. It can be a serious risk for both mother and baby if it’s not properly addressed. If a mother’s output of blood drops too low, it can reduce the amount of oxygen the fetus is receiving. Before birth, the fetus is totally dependent on the mother, so even a temporary dip in the amount of oxygen and glucose shortly before birth can result in permanent brain damage.
- Fetal distress. If the fetal heart rate drops following an epidural, it can be a sign of fetal distress. Although many fetuses whose mothers receive an epidural do experience episodes of bradycardia (reduced heart rate), it can be especially harmful if the fetus is already suffering as a result of some other issue. These are factors an anesthesiologist would need to know about, take into account and monitor closely.
- Abnormal uterine contractions. Following an epidural and other anesthesia, contractions can become less frequent and weaker. Sometimes, this will be countered with a dose of synthetic oxytocin, which is called Pitocin.
Pitocin in particular is associated with a host of perinatal and neonatal problems, including:
- Hemorrhage of the brain
- Jaundice of the baby
- Dangerously high blood pressure
- Uterine rupture
In general, mothers who receive anesthesia during birth have longer labors, and their babies are at higher risk of birth-related injuries due to medications. But that doesn’t mean these medications are of no value. They must, however, be carefully prescribed, administered by capable hands and their effects closely watched.
During a cesarean section (C-section) delivery, anesthesiologists and support staff must remain close by and alert to any indications of fetal distress or maternal complications.
It’s important to note also that mothers have the right to know and understand the risks, benefits and alternatives to anesthesia. Failure to do so in itself is a form of negligence. There also has to be adequate communication among the medical team throughout the labor and delivery to ensure everyone is on the same page about the drugs administered and the effects.
Any indication of distress must be quickly and appropriately addressed.
If you or your child suffered a drug-related complication during childbirth, contact our experienced injury lawyers to determine whether you may have grounds for compensation.