They are the words new parents long to hear: “Congratulations, you have a healthy baby!” The relief of knowing your little one is beginning his or her life with good health is a gift to you and the entire family.
If you learn there’s an abnormality or an indication that your baby may be ill, you may begin to wonder if something could have, or should have, been done to prevent it. In some cases, no action by the parents or medical provider would have changed this unfortunate outcome. But at other times a child’s ill health at or after birth could have been prevented had doctors and other medical professionals exercised proper attention and care during a woman’s pregnancy, delivery and in the critical first few minutes, hours, and days following birth.
If medical providers have breached standards of care due to negligence and you or your child suffer harm such as an injury-causing infection as a result, you may be eligible to receive compensation and damages for your losses.
How do newborns acquire infections?
Newborns - especially preemies - have underdeveloped immune systems. While a mother can pass along some antibodies to their children through the placenta during pregnancy, they may not be present in high enough quantities to prevent and/or fight infections.
An infection can begin in utero (during pregnancy), at birth (during delivery) or after birth (in the first few days and weeks).
In the same way a mother can pass along beneficial antibodies to the fetus through the placenta that may help its developing immune system recognize and fight harmful diseases, infections can also travel through the placenta to the fetus. The most common cause of infection in labour is the presence of Group-B strep in the mom.
Hepatitis B and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may also be passed from mother to fetus. If a woman and her medical providers are aware of maternal infections (not all women may be symptomatic), they may be able to treat them to reduce the likelihood that the fetus will suffer problems. Depending on when the fetus was exposed to an infection during the term and the nature of the disease, these infections can result in premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects or abnormal growth.
During a delivery, a baby may also be exposed to infectious matter if it passes through an infected birth canal. Prolonged labour (after membranes have ruptured) may also permit a vaginal infection to expand. Finally, improperly sterilized equipment used during delivery may introduce an infection to a newborn.
Common infection-causing bacteria and viruses a baby may be exposed to at birth include:
- streptococcal bacteria.
- gonococcal bacteria.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli).
- Listeriosis (Listeria monocytogenes).
- herpes simplex.
- Hepatitis B.
Finally, postpartum infections can result from close contact (including breastfeeding) between a newborn and an infected mother or through contact with other people at a hospital, birthing centre, or home. Some common postpartum infections include:
- bacterial meningitis.
- conjunctivitis, pneumonia.
What are signs of newborn infections?
Although every type of infection may have its own unique combination of symptoms, there are some common signs that a newborn may be battling an infection. These include:
- a sudden change in behaviour or somatic symptoms.
- unusual irritability or fussiness.
- persistent crying.
- poor feeding.
- unusually high or low temperature.
- breathing difficulties.
- listlessness or lethargy.
- changes in skin colour, pallor, jaundice, or unusual rashes.
- vomiting or diarrhea.
- unusual heart rate.
Although standard testing, proper monitoring, and follow-up care should detect some of these infections, new parents or caregivers should alert their medical provider if they notice any of these types of symptoms between appointments. Some common infection-related illnesses also have specific symptoms that should call for immediate intervention.
Diagnosis, treatment and prevention of newborn infections.
Although a doctor’s physical examination of a newborn’s symptoms may lead to a diagnosis, a variety of blood tests and samples of body tissues and/or bodily fluids (of both the mother and newborn) can be used to determine if the infant has an infection.
Depending on the kind of infection present and the treatments available, a newborn may be given antibiotics (for bacterial infections) antiviral medications (for viral infections) and other types of antifungal or antiparasitic medicines for fungal or parasitic infections.
In some cases, preventative treatment may be available to block transmission of infection-causing viruses, bacteria, fungus, or parasites. For example, it is common for doctors providing medical care for expectant women to test for common sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, late in the pregnancy. A positive test on the swab would mean the woman would receive intravenous antibiotics during delivery to reduce the chance that she would pass the infection to her baby. Doctors also frequently put antibiotic drops in a newborn’s eyes to prevent conjunctivitis from this and other types of bacteria.
Similarly, if a pregnant woman has HIV, she may be prescribed antiretroviral medication to reduce the viral load in her body and reduce the risk her infant will contract the virus.
Good prenatal care will also determine if a pregnant woman has been vaccinated against certain infections, such as chicken pox and rubella, and encourage immunization if she has not. Pregnant women will also be advised to avoid risky activities such as being exposed to animal feces that are found to increase the risk of listeriosis and toxoplasmosis.
Standards of care breached by negligence.
Medical providers are bound to uphold certain standards of care for patients. These standards include protocols to screen for disease, high risk conditions, or abnormalities in the pregnant woman and her fetus during pregnancy and in her child during delivery and in the period following birth.
Medical providers must also advise pregnant women of certain activities that may put them or the fetus at increased risk for harm. Finally, they must ensure the delivery room environment, all birthing equipment, and any other areas where the mother and/or child receive care are properly sanitized and cleaned regularly.
If these standards are breached due to negligence and a patient suffers harm (injury, disability, death) that is caused by the breach, the medical provider(s) would be liable for damages to victims. These damages not only include calculable losses (past, current and future cost of attendant care, medication costs, medical equipment, loss of income) but also losses that cannot be quantified per se but are measured more generally based standards with our legal system insofar as evaluating them (pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life).
Sometimes parents will not know whether the health complications suffered after birth by their newborn might be caused by substandard medical care or not. In many cases it is worth your time and effort to contact an experienced, knowledgeable and skilled birth injury lawyer to conduct a preliminary investigation into the circumstances behind the injury to determine if a health provider should be held accountable for an adverse outcome. Living with a debilitating injury can be expensive, and you should not have to bear these expenses alone if someone’s negligence caused harm to you or your loved one.
How Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers can help.
As one of the country’s leading birth injury law firms, we know our prospective clients often contact with us at one of the worst moments of their lives. Learning your newborn baby is ill or has been injured can be devastating for you and your loved ones at a time when you should be feeling the joy of welcoming a new life into the world.
Our team always strives to provide the compassion, empathy, and attentive care you need and deserve at this critical moment. After you tell us your story, we will take all the time you need to explain your rights and options. We will answer your questions and ensure you can make an informed decision about how to move forward.
Our initial consultation is always free, and there is no obligation. When you choose to work with us as your representatives, we do not get paid unless we are successful in negotiating a settlement for you or obtaining a court award.
A commitment to full-circle care.
We treat our clients as we treat our own family. That means we continue to care about your well-being both during and after the life of your case. During the litigation process Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ renowned client liaisons will be available to answer your questions or simply to check in to see how you’re doing. Some of these liaisons have personal experience with these types of cases and know first-hand how you may be feeling and/or what information will be most helpful to you.
Gluckstein’s newborn infection birth injury lawyers are always here to help in any way we can. When you or your loved ones have been hurt, choose our team to be your tireless supporter and fierce advocate. Together, we can work to build a better future for you.
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