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Geriatric Pregnancy: Can You Sue if Doctors Mishandle Pregnancy after 35?

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New Jersey Attorneys Providing Legal Counsel for Mothers Injured by Negligence with Older Age Pregnancy and Childbirth

Pregnancy over the age of 35 is a medical red flag. Doctors regard a “geriatric pregnancy” when a pregnant woman is over 35 and has a higher risk for pregnancy problems. Even though more women than ever have babies over 35, the medical establishment is slow to recharacterize advanced age pregnancy as anything other than high risk. Unfortunately, the negative framing of this life event for mature women may cause undue concern for expectant healthy mothers. And yet, there are many negative ways in which pregnancy at an older age may influence the outcome. As such, considering the trends of pregnancy and labor complications for older women, medical professionals who oversee geriatric pregnancies must be extra careful to monitor signs of problems during prenatal care, amidst the birth itself, and thereafter.

Risks Associated with Geriatric Pregnancies

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cites the following as more common in mothers of advanced maternal age:

Low birth weight and prematurity cause immediate health risks for the newborn, as well as possible lifelong struggles. For example, babies born prematurely or too small may develop physiological disorders, like respiratory distress syndrome. Their suckling response may be weak, also, so they can have difficulties feeding. And jaundice, a condition arising from an underdeveloped liver that cannot adequately process bilirubin, is also common among premature babies who are often born via c-section.

Labor difficulties and necessary cesarean sections go hand in hand. Women who have long labor may end up having a c-section to protect the health of the mother and baby. Long labor is considered over 18 to 24 hours of steady contractions and typically requires medical intervention with medications to speed up labor or cesarean if the baby cannot be safely born vaginally. Since the fetus also experiences the compression of contractions, they may experience fetal distress from a long labor. Guided by the fetus’s heart rate, a physician may perform an emergency c-section if the fetus’s heart rate increases or decreases to an extent that endangers its survival. Babies who suffer oxygen deprivation due to prolonged labor may be born with severe birth injuries, namely brain damage or cerebral palsy among others.

For pregnant women over age 35, birth defects may develop in utero.

Older pregnant women receive genetic counseling more frequently than younger women because women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. As such, exposure to environmental pollutants and biological changes increase the likelihood of abnormalities in those eggs as time goes by. For example, Down Syndrome develops more often in infants born to older women. Down Syndrome causes cognitive and physical abnormalities to various degrees in children born with it. Turner Syndrome is another risk for older women. Children born with this condition struggle with a smaller stature and poor health. Both syndromes arise from chromosomal defects in the developing embryo. Chromosomal defects also cause miscarriage as the malformed embryo spontaneously miscarries.

For higher genetic defects risk reasons, older women are encouraged by their doctors to take advantage of the technology that identifies congenital abnormalities in the fetus during pregnancy or potential genetic problems parents can pass to their children before becoming pregnant. Chorionic villa sampling and amniocentesis are two popular methods to identify chromosomal defects, such as the extra chromosome marking Down Syndrome or the missing chromosome locating Turner Syndrome. However, since both require samplings of amniotic tissue or fluid, the risk of miscarriage, though slight, is still present. Still, many parents want to know what they should be prepared for in taking the tests.

Older women are more likely to come to pregnancy with medical conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity.

All these conditions make pregnancy complications more likely. For example, women with diabetes, obesity, or migraines are prone to develop preeclampsia during pregnancy. High blood pressure endangers the health of the mother and unborn child, thus often leading to emergency deliveries via cesarean section. And older women have multiple births more often than younger women. Carrying and delivering twins, triplets, or more is significantly complex and usually ends in premature birth and cesarean delivery. Multiples also have higher chances of being born with birth defects. Moreover, women carrying multiple fetuses suffer more instances of anemia, preeclampsia, and postpartum bleeding.

Considerations for Handling Older Age Pregnancy and Childbirth

Knowing that a mature woman has the potential for pregnancy complications, doctors must track their older patients’ progress and symptoms closely. At each prenatal visit, the doctor must listen carefully to any new symptoms that the woman may have that point to potential problems. In addition, both mother and baby should be checked throughout pregnancy, noting the mother’s blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and weight, as well as the fetus’s growth by trimester. Finally, a treating doctor must know the patient’s medical and genetic history at each visit. Understanding and using past medical problems as a predictive guide to monitoring the patient’s pregnancy helps prevent problems before they arise.

So, a mature new mother with a history of diabetes should be watched more closely for glucose levels, perhaps testing more often than a younger patient without a history of diabetes. Additionally, the obstetrician must pay attention to the baby’s growth at each visit as gestational diabetes, more likely with mothers who come to pregnancy at an older age and potential preexisting conditions, causes a fetus to be large, sometimes too large for a vaginal birth. An abnormally large baby, referred to as fetal macrosomia, could also slow down labor progress and become stuck in the birth canal. An accurate measure of the baby’s size could help a doctor and patient prepare for an emergency delivery at the onset of labor.

What can be Done when Medical Malpractice with Geriatric Pregnancy Occurs?

A medical professional who does not carefully monitor a geriatric pregnancy, does not observe a fetus in distress during labor and delivery, or fails to perform a cesarean section early enough, can cause the mother, baby, or both to suffer injury or death. In these cases, parents and families who have been subjected to the extensive financial, psychological, and physiological costs of maternal and infant birth injuries have the option to pursue justice and compensation through birth injury litigation.

Giving a mother genetic counseling about testing and options after test results are also essential. Parents may decide to end a pregnancy if a child is to be born with extensive congenital disabilities that would cause the child to suffer throughout their life. They may also choose to maintain the pregnancy but will need time to prepare for their unborn baby’s needs. If they are not given the option or information about testing or the tests are not correctly performed to yield accurate results, a medical professional’s negligence may cause the parents serious undue pain and suffering, for which they may sue. Wrongful birth lawsuits are intended to compensate parents for their emotional distress and costs of raising a severely disabled child.

Consulting an NJ Attorney after Geriatric Pregnancy Complications and Birth Injuries

If your doctor or other medical professional injured you or your baby by their negligent handling of your geriatric pregnancy, find out what you can do to recover your losses. You may have outstanding medical bills and future medical bills for your own health or that of your baby’s due to your doctor’s mistakes. You may also need ongoing care and therapy for you or your baby from the errors during your pregnancy or delivery. However, you should not have to pay for your doctor’s mistakes. Likewise, you and your loved ones should not be left to suffer the extensive damages caused by malpractice in the healthcare providers you trusted. Reach out to our highly experienced geriatric pregnancy malpractice attorneys for help and counsel today. Please call our local offices in New Jersey at 866-708-8617 or complete our convenient form to request a free consultation.

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