Low Birth Weight Injuries
Low Birth Weight Injury Lawyers in New Jersey
A baby is considered to have low birth weight if he or she weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (or 2,500 grams) when born. While the normal weight range for newborns is between 5 pounds, 8 ounces and 8 pounds, 13 ounces, many babies are delivered underweight each year. In fact, approximately 8 percent of newborns in the United States meet the criteria for low birth weight. Although some births involving low birth weight infants occur without issue, this situation immediately raises the likelihood that something will go wrong. Low birth weight babies are at increased risk for a multitude of short and long-term conditions, as well as serious birth injuries. With this in mind, it is imperative for doctors to identify risk factors for low birth weight, appropriately diagnose low birth weight newborns, and exercise extreme caution when caring for underweight infants. Failure to do so may cause irreparable harm; it may even amount to medical malpractice.
What is Considered Low Birth Weight?
Infants weighing under 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams) are classified as low birth weight. There are also key distinctions within this category, including the following sub-classifications:
- Low birth weight LBW: Infants weighing below 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces) at birth
- Very low birth weight VLBW: Infants weighing below 1,500 grams (3 pounds, 5 ounces) at birth
- Extremely low birth weight ELBW: Infants weighing under 1,000 grams (2 pounds, 3 ounces) at birth
Typically, doctors diagnose low birth weight in the first several hours after delivery. If an infant weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, he or she meets the necessary criteria for low birth weight. Notably, doctors may also compare the baby’s weight with the particular gestational age to arrive at a more precise classification, expressed as a percentile. If an infant is small for their gestational age (SGA), this is less than the 10th percentile. Between the 10th and 90th percentile is considered appropriate for gestational age (APA) and above the 90th percentile is classified as large for gestational age (LGA).
What Causes Low Birth Weight?
The two leading causes of low birth weight are premature birth and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). When an infant is born before reaching 37 weeks of gestational age, this is classified as premature. Being premature, or a “preemie,” increases the risk for a host of medical problems, as premature babies are more vulnerable than their full-term counterparts. The process for development continues throughout pregnancy, providing the fetus with critical time to fully develop all necessary organs and systems. Being delivered preterm essentially interrupts the process of full development in the womb that is fundamentally needed for health. The correlation between premature birth and low birth weight is extremely strong, with an estimated 70 percent of low birth weight infants born premature.
As for intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), also known as fetal growth restriction, this occurs when a fetus is prevented from gaining weight during pregnancy. Intrauterine growth restriction may be caused by a vast array of factors and maternal conditions, such as problems with the placenta, poor nutrition, birth defects, maternal hypertension, gestational diabetes, and infections.
What Increases Risk for Underweight Newborns?
There are numerous risk factors that increase the risk of low birth weight, including:
- Multiple pregnancies (ie. twins, triplets)
- Preeclampsia (maternal high blood pressure)
- Maternal infection
- Placental problems: placenta previa, placental abruption, placental insufficiency
- Previous pregnancy with a low birth weight infant
- Smoking, using drugs or alcohol
- Insufficient weight gain during pregnancy
- Mothers under 17 years of age or over 35 years of age
- Issues with the cervix
If a pregnancy involves one or more of these risk factors for low birth weight, it is crucial for doctors and other medical providers to identify them and plan accordingly to ensure the health of the newborn and the mother. Once a baby is delivered and recognized as underweight, it is also vital for physicians, nurses, and staff to properly care for this highly vulnerable patient.
Doctors should also continue to monitor the growth of the fetus throughout pregnancy, often checking size and development through ultrasound testing and measuring fundal height (length from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus. If at any point throughout the course of treatment a healthcare provider fails to provide care in accordance with the proper standard recognized by the medical community, the consequences for the mother or child can be grave. In addition to the immediate effects on the patient, this may also constitute medical negligence under the law.
What are Common Complications for Low Birth Weight Babies?
Newborns with low birth weights are much more likely to suffer from medical problems than infants in the normal weight range. Beyond health issues, low birth weight babies also have a greater potential for serious birth injuries if and when medical errors occur during labor and delivery. These babies may also experience difficulties with feeding, gaining weight, maintaining body temperature, and proper immune system function. Some of the more prevalent conditions and complications for low birth weight infants include the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
- Insufficient oxygen
- Respiratory distress syndrome
- Bleeding in the brain (brain hemorrhage)
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Feeding problems
- Gastrointestinal conditions
With the potential for serious medical problems and extremely delicate health status of low birth weight infants, doctors must ensure that these newborns receive proper treatment and care. In many cases, an underweight baby will be cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until they are determined to be in a stable condition for release from the hospital. Keep in mind, all babies with low birth weights are at higher risk and the lower the child’s weight, the higher the risk for injuries, complications, and even death. Extremely low birth weight is the most precarious circumstance for a newborn, with some who tragically do not survive for beyond the first few days or weeks after delivery.
Get Help from NJ Low Birth Weight Injury Attorneys Today
The necessity for the highest standard of medical diagnosis and treatment for low birth weight infants cannot be understated. Although unacceptable, doctors and other medical professionals may fail to provide acceptable care for low birth weight babies, which may lead to catastrophic health consequences. If your baby was born underweight and suffered complications, a birth injury, or has a long-term medical condition, it is important to understand your legal and rights and options. You may have a case against the doctor or another treatment provider, and perhaps a claim against the hospital where your child was born. To discuss your situation with an experienced birth injury attorney who can help investigate and determine if you have a case, contact our team of New Jersey birth injury attorneys today. We have successfully handled numerous cases on behalf of children and families in the greater New Jersey area and are here to help you anytime. Simply fill out our form or call (866)-708-8617 for an absolutely free consultation. There are time limitations that may apply to your case, so do not delay in seeking knowledgeable legal counsel now.