Welcoming a child into the world is a happy time for a family but, even with the best possible care, problems can arise. When a birth injury occurs due to a medical malpractice, the consequences can be devastating to the child and the family. A recent study conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in the years 1999-2009, birth injury and complications including kidney failure, respiratory distress, and cardiac arrest related to childbirth increased by 75%. Even the days immediately following childbirth proved less safe, with severe complications more than doubling during the same time period.
Demographic changes can account for some of the increase in complications. Many women are delaying parenthood until their late 30s and early 40s and experiencing issues that go along with advanced maternal age. The steady rise in obesity in the U.S. means that more expectant mothers are overweight, so their health may be compromised even before their pregnancies. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes or liver disease, can also put women at higher risk for complications throughout pregnancy. However, the most common cause of death after childbirth, severe bleeding, or hemorrhage, can affect even healthy women with no history of problems during pregnancy.
Danielle Dargatz, a 25-year-old Milwaukee woman, had experienced a healthy pregnancy and wasn’t considered high-risk for complications when she delivered her daughter in 2012. Unfortunately, following the birth she began hemorrhaging and her doctor was unable to stop the bleeding with medication and other traditional measures. A surgical team was called in to perform an emergency hysterectomy. Ms. Dargatz’s story has a happy ending, but some women and their children aren’t as lucky.
While most complications in pregnancy and childbirth are not life-threatening, a certain percentage will result in death. In the U.S. annually, severe birth injury and labor and delivery complications affect over 50,000 women per year. $17.4 billion in annual U.S. hospital costs comes from obstetrics-related complications, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Premier, Inc. They estimate that over a quarter of a hospital’s total of medical malpractice claims is attributed to birth injury lawsuits and other obstetrical complications.
While the healthcare industry works toward creating a safer environment for mothers giving birth and their newborn babies, expectant parents should choose their obstetricians carefully. Likewise, if given the choice, expectant parents should also select a hospital that providers a high degree of care for both routine and non-routine deliveries. Choosing the best possible obstetrician and hospital will reduce the risk of birth related complications. In the event a complication does arise, top quality physicians and hospitals staff will also decrease risk that a labor and delivery complication will result in permanent harm to mom or baby.
The Wall Street Journal, Steep Rise of Complications in Childbirth Spurs Action, 12-10-12.