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The Legal Implications of Your Baby Undergoing Cooling After Birth

A relatively new development in medicine is the discovery that whole body or brain cooling in a newborn who suffered from a hypoxic-ischemic insult (an decrease in blood flow and oxygen) can reduce the impact of that insult on the baby’s brain, and thus, long term outcome.  The connection between your baby being cooled after birth and a potential lawsuit for a preventable injury is unlikely to be apparent at first, but there is an important link between the two.

In order to be successful in certain kinds of birth injury lawsuits, one aspect that needs to be proven is that the baby was in distress in labour and delivery and that the medical practitioners should have intervened to expedite delivery.
The first thing an experienced birth injury lawyer looks for is whether the baby suffered hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) that caused hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy during the labour and delivery process.  The labour and delivery process is a time when medical practitioners should be monitoring for hypoxia and be prepared to intervene to prevent a permanent brain injury from that hypoxia.  The criteria we look for include:

  • Whether the umbilical cord blood is acidotic, which is reflective of prolonged hypoxia;
  • Whether the baby suffered from seizures shortly after birth or showed some other form of “neonatal encephalopathy” – in other words, abnormal brain function shortly after birth – such as an inability to feed properly, limpness, or abnormal reflexes;
  • Whether the fetal heart monitor showed distress in the period prior to delivery; and
  • Low APGAR scores at 5 minutes of life.

The medical principle behind cooling is that the cooling will act to reduce the inflammation and swelling that follows a hypoxic-ischemic insult within 6-72 hours following birth.  As a result, the criteria are used to determine whether a baby suffered a hypoxic-ischemic insult in the period immediately prior to delivery is the same as determining whether a baby is a candidate for cooling.

In the age of electronic fetal heart monitoring, it is much more likely than not that, if a baby is suffering from oxygen deprivation in the womb, it will be picked up by the electronic fetal heart monitor. The medical practitioners should be aware of any sign of oxygen deprivation and move towards expedited delivery if it is not relieved by other interventions.

Therefore, if your baby underwent cooling following delivery, you may have a birth injury claim that warrants investigating.  The team at Weir Bowen LLP would be happy to assist with an investigation at no cost to you.

By Shelagh McGregor