Losing a child to a stillborn complication is heartbreaking and finding out that the newborn's death was caused by medical negligence and could have been prevented is tragic. While holding those at fault financially accountable for causing the child's death, it will never alleviate the pain and grief of the loss; but it can bring justice to the family who needs closure. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), approximately 1% of all pregnancies (24,000 babies) in the U.S. are stillborn every year.
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC represents families who have lost a loved one through a stillborn complication and other types of professional negligence. Our law firm has successfully prosecuted cases for our clients who were grieving over the loss of a child caused by the negligent actions of others. Our attorneys are available to answer any legal questions on how to receive the monetary compensation you deserve if someone else's negligence caused your damages. Should you have additional questions, we invite you to contact our office for a free review of your legal rights.
What is Stillbirth?
Doctors typically define stillbirth as an issue that that occurs between the 24th and 40th week of pregnancy where there are no detectable signs of life. Stillbirth is different than miscarriage that occurs much earlier during the pregnancy, and a live birth where the child dies after being born. Fortunately, stillbirth pregnancies are uncommon. Many of these events are the result of the medical team's negligence while some factors are out of the obstetrician's control during the pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
What Causes a Stillborn Birth?
The exact cause of a stillborn birth is unknown. However, certain lifestyle factors increased the potential risk of having a stillbirth pregnancy including smoking, excessive drinking, and obesity. Smoking tobacco products are known to restrict fetal growth because it restricts the oxygen supply to the baby. Common issues that can lead to a stillborn death include:
- Placental Abruption – This condition involves the separation of the uterus and the placenta before the delivery process. Abruption of the placenta can be caused by the abdominal trauma, maternal health issues, or the mother's unusual congenital disability.
- Placental Disease – Placental dysfunction is often the result of a pathological change including intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), preeclampsia, and ischemic placental disease.
- Fetal or Maternal Infection – An infection that attacks the mother, placenta, or fetus could result in stillbirth, especially during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. Common infections that are known to compromise a pregnancy include:
- Cytomegalovirus – A herpes virus that can cause severe neurological damage to the fetus and weaken their immune system.
- Listeriosis – A foodborne-associated bacteria (Listeria monocytogenes) that invades the central nervous system (CNS) and compromises the immune system leading to brain infection (encephalitis) or meningitis.
- Fifth Disease – A common, highly contagious ailment affecting children that is recognizable by its distinctive rash on the face.
- Syphilis – Congenital syphilis (Treponema palladium) is known to cause severe congenital disabilities and deformities when the fetus is exposed to the condition in utero. Surviving newborns with syphilis can experience developmental delay, jaundice, anemia, enlarged spleen, enlarged liver, fever, rash, or seizures.
- Slow Fetal Growth – The potential risk of a stillborn death rises significantly if the fetus was growing too slowly.
- Congenital Defect – If the fetus has developed structural defects, genetic deviations, or chromosomal abnormalities, the results can be catastrophic and result in a stillborn death. Many fetuses who died during pregnancy had numerous congenital disabilities.
- Umbilical Cord Event – A minority of stillbirths are the result of an accident involving the placental umbilical cord that has become twisted, knotted, or has detached from the placenta, depriving the fetus of oxygen. Even healthy babies can die because of an umbilical abnormality.
- Fetal Asphyxiation – Any traumatic experience including a vehicle accident, falling down a flight of stairs, or a difficult delivery could deprive the child of oxygen during pregnancy or labor and lead to a stillborn death.
- Extended Pregnancies – Many pregnancies that take 42 weeks or longer after conception are at an increased risk of ending with a stillbirth. Some researchers believe the increased risk of fetal death is the result of the placenta's inability to continue supporting the fetus.
- Maternal Medical Issues – Autoimmune conditions including Lupus and clotting disorders can lead to a stillbirth death.
- Delayed Cesarean Section (C-Section) – Taking too long to decide to perform a cesarean section could compromise the child's well-being and might deprive the fetus of oxygen that might result in fetal death.
- Overmedicating the Mother – Administering too many drugs during pregnancy, labor, or delivery could compromise the fetus' health, resulting in a stillborn death. Many medicines can reach the baby in utero through the placenta and umbilical cord.
- Defective Product – Malfunctioning baby monitors, defective ultrasound equipment, and other products could cause the child's death during pregnancy if the medical team receives the wrong information and does not detect fetal stress or abnormality.
- Negligent Prenatal Care – The negligence of an obstetrician to schedule routine checkups could be a factor in stillborn deaths if the expectant mother and fetus receive substandard care. The doctor may fail to detect an abnormality with the umbilical cord or hearing the fetus' heartbeat.
- Older Maternal Age – Many older expectant mothers will have a healthy pregnancy. However, women 35 years and older have a significantly higher risk of complications that might require a cesarean section or induced labor 39 weeks into the pregnancy.
- Multiple Gestation – There are serious complications that occur in pregnancies involving twins, triplets, or more including the increased potential risk of stillbirth.
Who is Most at Risk?
Every expectant mother has a potential risk of a stillborn baby. However, there are significant risk factors associated with the condition that includes:
- Mothers who have experienced a previous stillbirth or had uterine growth restriction, preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, or a pre-term birth.
- Expected mothers with chronic medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, Lupus, blood clotting disorders, kidney disease, or thyroid disease.
- Expected mothers who developed complications including cholestasis of pregnancy (a liver disease involving bile flow caused by pregnancy hormones).
- Multiple Births of twins or more
- Expected mothers who are 35 years or older, or 15 years and younger are more likely to have a stillbirth compared to other pregnant women.
- Obesity – Being overweight significantly increases the potential risk of stillbirth.
- Smoking tobacco products while pregnant can increase the expectant mother's risk of stillbirth because it restricts oxygen supplying blood flow to the fetus.
- Ethnicity – expectant African-American mothers have doubled the risk of having a stillborn baby.
- First Time Mothers – Women experiencing their first full-term pregnancy have a higher risk of experiencing a stillborn event.
- High Blood Pressure and other serious medical conditions can compromise the fetus' health, leading to premature death in utero.
Expected mothers should seek out immediate medical attention if they become aware that the fetus is no longer moving instead of waiting for a routine prenatal visit. The doctor can use Doppler ultrasound equipment to confirm the baby's condition and whether the heart has stopped beating.
The obstetrician or emergency room doctor may order blood tests to rule out any probable causes including amniocentesis that can identify chromosomal issues that might have contributed to the child's premature death in utero.
Reducing the Risk of Stillborn
After the first to trimesters of pregnancy, the fetus has a better chance of survival outside of the womb (with medical care). Women most at risk can follow certain steps to reduce the risk of a stillborn birth that includes:
- Before Pregnancy – Women hoping to become pregnant should visit their health care provider and undergo a pre-conception examination. The doctor can take a comprehensive medical history to identify and treat any medical issues that might increase the potential of birthing a stillborn. Common problems include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, kidney disease, and other conditions.
The doctor will also want to know the current medications the woman is taking and make necessary adjustments while recommending the discontinuation of herbal drugs and over-the-counter meds while pregnant. The doctor might also recommend taking folic acid as a multivitamin or supplement before becoming pregnant to reduce the risk of a fetal neural tube congenital disability including spina bifida. Obese women expected to become pregnant should consider reducing their weight and following healthy weight guidelines.
- During Pregnancy – Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, and never use street drugs when pregnant. If stopping the use of drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes is difficult, the healthcare provider can recommend cessation programs.
Expected mothers who believe there something wrong should seek out immediate medical attention including if they experience vaginal bleeding after the first trimester, which might be an indicator of placental abruption. An expectant mother should ask the doctor about “kick counts” when they reached 28 weeks of pregnancy. The doctor will help the mother identify a healthy baby based on the number of kicking sensations she feels every hour. Mothers at higher risk for stillbirth should be monitored, beginning at 32 weeks, so that the doctor can check the fetus' heart rate to determine their health based on biophysical profiles.
Many families who experience a stillborn birth will be confused about what went wrong, and search for answers that might be difficult to identify. The doctor may be unaware of what caused the child's death and might only be identified through an autopsy (postmortem examination) or by examining the mother's placenta or blood. An autopsy might reveal:
- One or more causes that led to the child's death
- How the baby was developing in the womb,
- The mother's or child's health problems
Information about how the child died can help the family decide whether to move forward with another pregnancy and what actions would be necessary to ensure a successful delivery. The doctor may recommend preconception checkups and obtaining a healthier weight before becoming pregnant.
Grieving the Child's Death
The family often spends years grieving the loss of a stillborn child, while the mother, father, and other siblings grieve in their own way. Many times, family members will need help coping with the traumatic loss of a baby and seek out support to deal with the incredible sense of loss.
The mother usually faces additional grieving problems as her body presents constant reminders that she was once pregnant including her breasts producing milk and vaginal bleeding that provides a particular level of uncomfortableness and distress.
Fetal Death Legal Liability
Many factors can result in a fetal death, including a doctor's negligence in providing treatment, prescription medications, and the labor and delivery process. Many victims who have lost a loved one through a stillbirth experience will file a lawsuit against the doctor claiming medical malpractice where the personnel's negligence led to fetal death.
Other stillbirth cases are the result of a defective product, including a malfunctioning monitor or ultrasound device that provided inadequate information concerning fetal stress. Drivers can also be held legally liable if their actions because of an accident that resulted in a wrongful death of the mother or baby in the womb.
Legal Recovery Parents' Loss
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC understand the feelings of sadness and anger following the loss of a baby. If you have lost a child during late-term pregnancy or delivery, and believe that it may be due to the negligence of a doctor or hospital, our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers can help provide you with the information you desire regarding the medical care provided to your child. Contact us today to schedule a no obligation case consultation at no charge to you. Let us discuss the merits of your monetary recovery claim to ensure your family is adequately compensated for your loss.
Our legal team accepts all personal injury cases, wrongful death lawsuits, and stillborn medical malpractice claims through contingency fee arrangements. This legal contract postpones the payment of legal services until after we have successfully completed your case through a negotiated settlement or a jury verdict.
Our law firm gets results quickly because we understand you need money now. We probably offer every client a “No Win/No-Fee” Guarantee, meaning if we are unable to secure financial compensation on your behalf you owe us nothing. All information you share with our law office will stay confidential.