New Jersey Meconium Aspiration Birth Injury Attorney
So much goes on at birth that the laboring mother knows or cares little about while in the throes of working hard to deliver her baby. While she braves contractions, the fetus also experiences the trauma of contractions, compression in the birth canal, and their entire world fundamentally changing. Before delivery, the world of the developing fetus is warm, protected, and convenient. Nutrients are delivered into their body as they float in their watery amniotic sac. When delivered, the baby normally takes that first breath and cries. However, sometimes, that first breath into the lungs includes contents of the amniotic fluid, which can cause the baby severe health problems, primarily when the fluid contains meconium.
What is Meconium?
Meconium is the baby’s first bowel movement, a dark greenish, sticky substance that babies typically pass on the first day outside the womb. But some fetuses have their first bowel movement inside of the womb, naturally when distressed from hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) or infection. Sadly, when a delivering newborn inhales amniotic fluid with stool, they may contract a severe illness-inducing and potentially fatal condition called meconium aspiration syndrome. The condition occurs when inhaled meconium blocks the baby’s air passages, damages the lungs, or obstructs surfactant from doing its job of opening the lungs when the baby is born.
Understanding Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
Although not as prevalent as some other birth injuries and birth-related conditions, meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) does occur in up to ten percent of all births, causing fetal distress. Those infants more susceptible to the condition include overdue babies, underdeveloped newborns, and those born after a long, difficult delivery. And babies born to mothers who smoke, take excessive amounts of substances, or suffer from diabetes or other health challenges before birth, are at higher risk for aspirating meconium. As such, noting the mother’s medical history and observing the delivering baby are crucial in making a timely and accurate diagnosis.
How do Doctors Identify Meconium Aspiration?
An obstetrician or other doctor can recognize the signs of the condition by examining the baby, who may have breathing difficulties, blue-tinted skin, and lethargy. And if the doctor detects the dark green meconium in the amniotic fluid, they can conclude the baby has the condition. However, even before delivery, a vigilant doctor may find trouble signs.
When a fetus’s heart rate slows during delivery, a doctor usually takes note. In addition to slow heart rate, a doctor may diagnose MAS by post-delivery signs in the newborn, like meconium traces in the vocal cord and lungs, abnormal breathing, low oxygen, and high carbon dioxide. A combination of observation, fetal monitors, scopes, chest x-ray, and blood analyses helps a physician to confirm the diagnosis.
What is done to Treat a Baby with Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?
Once diagnosed, the treatment often consists of one of more of the following: suctioning the baby’s mouth during delivery, antibiotics, a ventilator, chest tapping, and warming in the neonatal care ward of the hospital. Other measures may be necessary to aid respiration, such as giving the baby surfactant to help the lungs open or introducing nitric oxide or oxygen to the baby’s lungs to open the airways and assist breathing. The aim is to avoid complications of the condition, including dangerous conditions like pneumonia or infant brain injury. For some newborns, ventilation is needed and they may require advanced care in the neonatal intensive care unit. With proper diagnosis and proactive medical intervention, babies may fully recover. Without such help, others may suffer brain damage when oxygen levels sink dangerously low in the womb.
Can You Prevent Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?
There are preventative measures that doctors can take to reduce the risks of meconium aspiration. For one, an obstetrician can induce labor when a woman’s due date passes and the pregnancy shows no signs of progress toward delivery. To induce labor, an obstetrician may break the woman’s membranes, or amniotic sac, to begin labor. If the fluid is meconium-tinged, the doctor can ensure that the fetus is monitored carefully for changes in heart rate and signs of distress, taking the necessary quick actions to protect the baby’s health. The pregnancy may end in a cesarean section if the fetus is endangered at any point in the process.
However, if the fetus is doing well, the doctor may soften the cervix with a medication called prostaglandins and induce contractions with Pitocin. So long as the fetus is doing well, the mother can hopefully give birth without incident. If labor is long and arduous, the physician must make those hour-by-hour determinations as to the mother and baby’s health and the necessity to avoid stressing either party further. Since stress and oxygen deprivation increase the likelihood of meconium aspiration, the healthcare team must be on the highest alert for signs of the condition. And if a cesarean section is the safest delivery method to prevent a birth injury, the physician must be prepared to perform one in an emergency.
How can Negligence Occur with Meconium Aspiration?
A pregnant woman can help protect her newborn by reporting any discoloration in the amniotic fluid when her water breaks, but the burden of preventing complications from meconium aspiration syndrome rests with the treating physician and staff. When a physician misses the signs of MAS or allows an at-risk pregnancy to continue for too long past the due date, they may be responsible for the resulting injury to the infant and, consequently, to the mother. An obstetrician should know what to be watchful for when a woman with preeclampsia (high blood pressure) goes into labor, and be highly attuned to other potential risk factors for birth injuries.
Labor and delivery often involves high-pressure, quick-decision scenes that fall upon sometimes unaware, inattentive, inexperienced, unqualified, unprepared or otherwise negligent physicians. However, medical malpractice law entitles families of infants harmed by meconium aspiration negligence to pursue financial compensation in such overwhelming circumstances. Doctors and other medical professionals are trained and expected to handle pregnancy and childbirth competently, and patients rely on them to cure, not cause their illnesses and injuries.
Speak to a Knowledgeable Meconium Aspiration Malpractice Lawyer in NJ
When a medical provider does not live up to the competency standards expected of them and thus, harms a child or its mother, the entire family is adversely affected by medical negligence. If your doctor let you down, causing your baby to be injured and suffer needlessly, contact our team of birth injury lawyers to discuss what to do to get the care your baby needs and will need in the future. Our attorneys are accustomed to guiding clients toward the right legal solutions for them. Sometimes the solution is to file a lawsuit against those who are obligated to safeguard your health and that of your baby. A medical malpractice claim may end in a favorable settlement for you and your family, a trial by jury, or a resolution prior to filing a lawsuit. Whichever way the claim yields results, you can take solace when entrusting your unique circumstances to our legal team, well-versed in resolving birth injury medical malpractice claims for clients across the state of New Jersey.
Contact us 24/7 at 866-708-8617 for a free initial consultation.