A premature baby is a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.[i] Because of their low birth weight and underdeveloped organs, a baby born prematurely is at a higher risk of health complications and birth injuries.[ii] Premature births may be preventable by adequate prenatal care by the treating physician.
One of the most common complications premature babies experience is Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Because the lungs are one of the last things to develop during pregnancy, babies born prematurely could have under-developed lungs that do not produce enough surfactant, the liquid produced in the lungs that keeps the airway open.[iii] A lack of surfactant causes breathing issues to worsen with each breath, making it difficult for premature babies to breathe on their own.[iv] Doctors may attempt to treat Respiratory Distress Syndrome in premature infants by placing the baby on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP), giving the baby artificial surfactant, or placing the baby on a ventilator.[v] However, treating a baby with a CPAP Machine or putting the baby on a ventilator can cause complications that can include long-term and short-term breathing issues.[vi]
Additionally, premature babies’ blood vessels are weak and make the baby more likely to have brain bleeds and other brain injuries such as:
- Intraventricular Hemorrhages (IVH) – Intraventricular hemorrhages occur when the blood vessels around the brain’s ventricles break and blood flows into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid within the brain’s ventricles This usually occurs within a week after the baby is born.[vii]
- Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) – HIE is a type of birth injury to the brain caused by lack of oxygen and blood to the baby’s brain. This can cause brain cells to die off and cause widespread damage.[viii]
- Hydrocephalus – Hydrocephalus is the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain’s ventricles which increases the size of the ventricles and causes swelling in the brain.[ix]
- Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) – PVL is a brain injury where the white matter of the baby’s brain is damaged, softens, and dies around the ventricles. PYL is caused by oxygen deprivation around the time of birth.[x]
Physicians and nurses can usually prevent birth injuries caused by prematurity by following the standard of care, carefully monitoring the health of the mother and baby, and promptly dealing with any issues that may arise during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Many times a premature birth can be avoided with proper care. If a healthcare provider fails to do these things, and their negligence results in birth injuries related to prematurity, they may be responsible for the damages they have caused.
If your child has was born prematurely and has suffered injuries due to that prematurity, please contact Michael P. Bonner, Esq. at [email protected] or call us at 305-676-8800 for a free consultation. Mr. Bonner is an attorney with thirty years of experience handling medical malpractice claims for both patients and healthcare providers.