Was My Prolonged Labour a Possible Cause of My Child’s Cerebral Palsy?

woman delivering baby in hospital

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children. It affects a child’s motor control, balance, and muscular condition. Lifetime prognosis varies and the initial diagnosis will usually come as a shock to new parents.

What went wrong?

Cerebral palsy is a result of damage to the baby’s brain. Determining the time of the damage is more difficult. One of the most common reasons an infant may sustain brain damage is prolonged labour.

What is Prolonged Labour?

Prolonged labour, or  “failure to progress”, is labour that goes on for 18 to 24 hours after regular contractions begin. However, it does vary. For first babies, prolonged labor may not be declared until 22 to 24 hours. For subsequent pregnancies it may be considered after only 16 hours.

What Causes Prolonged Labour?

Common causes include:

  • The size of the baby’s head relative to the mother’s pelvis.
  • Abnormal position of the baby in the birth canal.
  • Weak uterine contractions
  • Epidural anesthesia. While extremely common, it can delay contractions, slowing labour.

Monitor Prolonged labour carefully

In some cases, the baby may be experiencing stress and be unable to tolerate labour. Medical professionals have a legal obligation to carefully monitor the baby’s fetal heart rate. An electronic fetal heart monitor indicates when the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. The doctors and nurses may also use an intrauterine pressure catheter. This small monitor measures the strength, length, and frequency of the uterine contractions.

Steps to treat prolonged Labor

The baby’s risk of oxygen deprivation increases during prolonged labour. If the health of the baby is at risk, there are known steps to take to speed delivery.

Instruments like forceps or a vacuum extractor are available if the baby is already in the birth canal. These tools help pull the at-risk baby out.

Medication like Pitocin is an option to speed up and strengthen contractions if the baby has not made enough progress down the birth canal. However, a Cesarean section will be performed to deliver a baby who is at risk of oxygen deprivation.

When is it time to perform a C-section?

There are situations where a baby’s brain injury or cerebral palsy may have been avoidable. Common allegations include:

  • Failure to closely monitor the baby’s heart rate for signs of fetal distress
  • Failure to perform a timely c-section when the monitoring showed distress
  • Improperly used forceps or vacuum during the delivery

If you have a child with a birth injury, please call us for a free consultation with a birth injury lawyer. We will work with doctors to investigate your delivery to determine if your child’s injury could have been prevented with reasonable medical care.


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