ERNST & YOUNG
The amniotic fluid in the womb of an expectant mother serves as a cushion against blows from the outside world while stimulating the growth and development of her fetus. The clear yellow fluid is vital for the survival of the child but in some occasions, complications may occur during the delivery process, which places the child under life-threatening situations.
Amniotic fluid aspiration during birth and amniotic fluid aspiration pneumonia are two risky medical conditions that display similar symptoms. It is essential for parents to understand the difference through detailed medical reports, to better understand the cause of the complication and take necessary legal action.
Amniotic Fluid Aspiration During Birth
Widely known as meconium aspiration, this occurs when the baby breathes in a mixture of amniotic fluid and the first traces of stool, which is usually released during the early period of pregnancy and shortly after birth.
However, in rare occasions babies may pass stools before they are born, which may cause toxic complications and even death. The condition may be a result of acute stress experienced by the fetus.
The physical symptoms of meconium aspiration in a child may include:
- Signs of rapid breathing or difficulties in catching breaths
- Chest is visibly strained when breathing
- Discolored skin (i.e. yellowed skin & nails or bluish hue)
- Bloating in chest due to trapped air
- Gurgling or grunting noises when breathing
As children take their first breaths, meconium may be embedded within the air sacs or alveoli of the lungs, which may lead to serious breathing problems through chest infections such as pneumonia (which we will cover later).
Meconium aspiration is diagnosed by checking for meconium within the amniotic fluid at birth. Additionally, medical practitioners may recommend a chest x-ray for your child to assess the condition of the lungs.
Amniotic Fluid Aspiration Pneumonia
Pneumonia may occur in some serious cases of meconium aspiration. Only a small percentage of babies suffer from meconium aspiration and an even smaller number experience the complications caused by pneumonia.
The condition is caused by viral, bacterial or fungal (rarer cases) infections. The bacteria found in meconium can lead to pneumonia without proper medical assistance.
Treatment Options for Meconium Aspiration
There are many available treatment options available for babies who are suspected of meconium aspiration. These should be clearly outlined and suggested by medical practitioners at the earliest signs in detection.
Treatment may include:
- Administration of antibiotics that supports the underdeveloped immune system of the child against infections.
- Administration of a ventilator or other apparatus to assist and stabilize the breathing of the child.
- Oxygen therapy to enrich oxygen levels within the body of the child.
- Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) in severe cases, to replace/support the function of severely infected lungs with mechanical assistance.
Providing the Right Assessment/ Procedures
Healthcare practitioners are sworn to offer treatment and diagnosis based according to standard medical procedure. Any lapse in judgment that results in harm or injury to patients is considered a breach of the law and a chargeable offence.
As such, parents should be duly informed of the necessary procedures if their unborn child is suspected of amniotic aspiration.
For instance, amnioinfusion should be recommended by the healthcare practitioner if the womb is detected to contain meconium. This medical measure is performed during labor and involves inserting a tube into the uterus via the vaginal passage, to drain out meconium liquid.
Parents may consider preparing and asking some key questions to prompt medical practitioners into action and to gain a better understanding of their situation. These include asking more about a medical process and why it is required, asking for the availability of treatment options, clearly understanding the risks involved in any medical process or treatment, and asking about the need and details for follow-up consultations.
Taking Legal Action
It is within the rights of patients to take legal action against a medical practitioner if they suspect that amniotic fluid aspiration complications are a direct result of medical malpractice. Under American law, it is necessary to meet these 4 factors before taking action:
- Your medical provider performs a professional duty owed to you.
- Breach of that professional duty.
- Injuries and harm caused by the breach of duty.
- Additional damages that occur (i.e. loss of mobility, loss of income)
It is essential to note that the dissatisfaction of a medical service (i.e.lack of manners) does not provide sufficient grounds for a lawsuit.
Here are some potentially culpable situations in the case of meconium aspiration:
- Failure to order or suggests appropriate amnioinfusion in suspected cases of meconium aspiration.
- Lack of proper medical follow-up for babies suspected to be suffering from the effects of meconium aspiration
- Delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of meconium aspiration, leading to loss of fetus or long-term health issues in the child.
Caring for a baby is a challenging process and caring for a child who is unwell makes it even harder. Aside from receiving prompt medical treatment, parents should ensure that they understand their rights in cases where they have suffered from the deleterious effects of medical malpractice.
When in doubt, always consult the legal advice of a professional medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice remains the 3rd leading cause of death (preceded by cancer and heart diseases) in America, and remains difficult to estimate due to its complexities.
Through raised awareness and experienced legal intervention, the risks of medical malpractices can be reduced across the nation.