Doctors are aware that there are many difficulties that can come up in the course of a woman's pregnancy and that some of these complications can result in significant injuries and possibly the death of the unborn baby. A particular problem, normally referred to as umbilical cord compression, arises when the umbilical cord comes under pressure. Circumstances under which this appears include when the cord slips into the birth canal and is compressed as the baby descends, or when the umbilical cords becomes wrapped around the baby's neck . The reason this complication is so dangerous for the unborn child is that it winds up depriving the baby of a critical supply of blood and oxygen.
If medical professionals find a considerable slowing down of the baby's heart rate they should consider a cord compression as a potential reason. This is specially true if the heart rate slows downs in waves or episodes - a pattern that is called decelerations. Because an unborn baby cannot survive long without suffering a severe brain injury or even dying, the necessary supply of oxygen needs to be restored right away. If the compression is not significant then repositioning the mother to reduce pressure on the cord, or giving her oxygen and fluids, might ease the problem. In those circumstances where these steps do not relieve the pressure on the cord, it may become necessary to perform an emergency C-section.
By not timely detecting a cord compression and taking the proper action right away a doctor or nurse may lead to a delay that ends in severe harm or even the death of the baby. If this takes place that doctor or nurse may be liable. Consider, for example, the lawsuit that resulted after a pregnant woman, at full term, went to the hospital as scheduled to be induced for labor. The staff used Pitocin to induce labor. After the drug was given, the fetal heart rate monitor revealed multiple umbilical cord compressions as decelerations of the unborn baby's heart rate. The staff repositioned the progrant woman following which the baby's heart rate returned to normal.
Regrettably, when the woman asked to use the bathroom, the obstetrics resident disconnected the fetal heart rate monitor. It was discontinued for eleven minutes. These eleven minutes were critical. The cord became compressed reducing the baby's oxygen supply. The baby was born suffering from asphyxiation with resulting significant mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
No settlement was achieved in this case and so the matter went to trial. In the course of the trial evidence revealed that leaving the fetal heart rate monitor disconected for those eleven minutes after the baby had suffered a series of heart rate decelerations amounted to medical malpractice. Basically, it came with too high a risk that there might be further umbilical cord compressions that would not be detected and thus would not, and indeed did not, result in such curative actions as additional position changes and, if necessary, an emergency C-section that could have kept the child from sustaining brain damage. The law firm reported that the jury returned a verdict of $15.8 million for the family.