Welcoming a new baby into your home should be one of the most exciting days of your life. Despite taking your vitamins, visiting your doctor and doing everything you can to prepare for childbirth, your body may determine that the baby wants to come early.
While premature babies can survive after 24 or 25 weeks of gestation, preterm babies are more susceptible to disabilities and serious health complications than those who reach full term.
What can cause premature birth?
Sometimes there are no obvious indications that a mom will go into preterm labor. But the following health conditions and risk factors increase the chances that the baby will be born before it reaches full term:
- Gestational diabetes
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure)
- Infections during pregnancy
- Maternal anorexia or obesity
- Birth defects (possibly undiagnosed)
- Carrying twins or other multiples
- Previous miscarriage or abortion
- Smoking, drinking or drugs during pregnancy
A competent OB-GYN should anticipate or identify these risk factors and provide appropriate treatment and prenatal counseling to a mother who is at risk.
Short-term effects in “preemie” babies
Some complications of preterm labor and premature birth are an immediate concern during the first few hours, days or weeks after the baby is born. These issues may pose no long-term problems as long as they are identified and treated appropriately by medical staff:
- Heart abnormalities
- Breathing problems / insufficient oxygen
- Jaundice (Hyperbilirubinemia)
- Interrupted brain function
- Inability to regulate temperature
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Immune deficiency or blood problems
Long-term problems and permanent disabilities
How far along in the pregnancy, how labor and delivery went, and how medical personnel responded to complications may determine whether the baby suffers any long-term effects. Some common disabilities and health problems associated with premature birth:
- Impaired vision or hearing
- Cerebral palsy (motor impairment)
- Developmental delays/cognitive deficits
- Psychological and behavioral problems
- Asthma and other chronic health issues
These disabilities may not be revealed until months later or toddler years. It becomes medically and legally complicated to tie it back to errors in prenatal care, labor and delivery, or neonatal care. Should the OB-GYN have detected problems through genetic tests and ultrasounds? Did the doctor fail to administer tocolytic medications or other strategies to suppress preterm labor? If premature birth was anticipated, was the baby given steroids to develop its lungs? Was the newborn properly monitored and treated for complications of premature birth.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney may be able to gauge from the medical records whether the physicians and hospital missed the signs, made errors or should have done more to protect your preterm baby.
Preparing for a life of care
With proper medical care, many preemie babies grow up with no lasting effects of being born early. But for those babies who do suffer health problems and physical or mental disabilities, the challenges and hardships can be lifelong. The costs of medical care and meeting their special needs can exceed a million dollars over a lifetime, and both the child and the parents suffer emotionally.
If medical providers bear responsibilty for adverse effects of preterm labor, they can held accountable for monetary damages to cover the economic loss and personal pain and suffering.