Choosing an excellent obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) is a top priority when you’re pregnant. You want a physician who will take your pregnancy as seriously as you do. Any number of things can go wrong during pregnancy, which is why you want a competent doctor looking after you. Unexpected issues like a compressed umbilical cord can have devastating consequences if not correctly diagnosed and treated.

The umbilical cord connects the developing fetus to its mother. It is the fetus’ lifeline as the umbilical cord carries oxygen and vital nutrients responsible for a baby’s healthy development. When there’s umbilical cord compression, it could result in a birth injury or a stillborn baby. While there’s no way to prevent a compressed umbilical cord, doctors can undoubtedly prevent subsequent injuries with a timely diagnosis and emergency treatment in most situations.

What Is Umbilical Cord Compression?

While the umbilical cord is a very simple structure, it plays one of the more important roles during pregnancy. Doctors should be monitoring the umbilical cord as closely as they monitor the baby’s development. Any disruption in blood flow to the fetus could result in a permanent birth injury.

A woman’s umbilical cord can become compressed during pregnancy for various reasons. Doctors cannot prevent it from happening, so it’s crucial to look for signs of umbilical cord compression throughout the pregnancy. 

Fortunately, with fetal monitoring, we are able to see evidence of cord compression when it is creating a hostile intrauterine environment, such as an abnormal fetal heart baseline (e.g., tachycardia or bradycardia), decelerations, or a lack of variability.

Common Causes of Umbilical Cord Compression

Three primary causes lead to a compressed umbilical cord—true knots, nuchal cords, and umbilical cord prolapse. Each of these could require different treatment, making it even more crucial that your doctor correctly diagnoses why there’s umbilical cord compression. Some umbilical cord compressions are mild, and the baby continues to develop normally. However, other situations require immediate emergency intervention, including an early C-section delivery.

True Knots

A fetus moves around in the mother’s womb, leading to the umbilical cord forming a knot. If the fetus continues to move, it could pull the knot even tighter, further compressing the umbilical cord.

Nuchal Cords

A nuchal cord refers to the umbilical cord wrapping itself around the fetus. Nuchal cords are more common in pregnancies where the umbilical cord is above average length. A longer umbilical cord makes it easier to become wrapped around the fetus.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse

When a doctor delivers a baby, the umbilical cord should follow the fetus out of the birth canal. An umbilical cord prolapse means the cord has dropped into the cervix or alongside the fetus. This positioning creates compression on the umbilical cord, thereby disrupting blood flow to the fetus.

What Doctors Should Do to Prevent a Birth Injury from Umbilical Cord Compression

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the umbilical cord compression and how many weeks the mother has left in the pregnancy. The decision on treatment needs to happen immediately, especially in cases where the compressed umbilical cord presents an immediate danger to the fetus. Potential treatment options include:

  • Fixing a prolapsed cord or nuchal cord,
  • Administering oxygen to the pregnant mother,
  • Introducing saline solution into the uterus to alleviate pressure and open arteries and veins, and
  • Emergency C-section delivery.

In some circumstances, the doctor may be able to alleviate some of the compression by finding a better position for the mother, e.g., lying down. However, the doctor will need to closely monitor the mother to ensure no further invasive treatment is necessary.

What Are Your Legal Rights If Your Baby suffered a Birth Injury Due to a Compressed Umbilical Cord?

Unfortunately, mistakes can happen during any pregnancy. However, some errors constitute medical negligence. If the doctor could’ve prevented an injury, you could have a claim for medical malpractice. In many cases of a compressed umbilical cord, the medical providers could’ve done more to prevent a birth injury. If your doctor failed to conduct proper diagnostic testing or provide adequate treatment, their actions could amount to medical malpractice.  

But not all medical mistakes amount to medical negligence, so it’s crucial to contact a skilled New Jersey medical malpractice attorney right away. Umbilical cord compression can result in severe birth injuries, including:

  • Cerebral palsy (CP),
  • Fetal acidosis,
  • Birth asphyxia,
  • Behavioral and cognitive disorders,
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and
  • Developmental disabilities.

Sadly, some babies with umbilical cord compression are stillborn. We know this is an unfathomable tragedy for any family to endure. We offer our sincere condolences if your baby did not survive. While no compensation will make the situation better, holding the medical provider accountable for their actions can help keep another family from becoming victims of medical malpractice.

Contact a New Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If your baby suffered a birth injury due to a compressed umbilical cord, we encourage you to contact the New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers at O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble today. We have significant experience assisting victims of medical negligence in New Jersey. Please get in touch with our office to schedule an initial consultation to learn more about your legal rights.

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