The umbilical cord is a crucial lifeline between the baby and mother during pregnancy. The umbilical cord and placenta are how a mother supplies oxygen and nutrients to her developing fetus. Any problems that develop during the pregnancy or labor could present life-threatening dangers. It’s crucial to recognize the signs of umbilical cord problems. If your baby sustained a birth injury, it’s vital to speak with a skilled New Jersey personal injury lawyer.
O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble has years of experience with medical malpractice claims in New Jersey, including an umbilical cord injury. We understand what a terrifying experience this is for you and your family. Depending on the circumstances, you could have a valid medical malpractice lawsuit against the involved medical providers and hospital. Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation.
What Is the Umbilical Cord?
Before learning to recognize signs of umbilical cord problems, you need first to understand what the umbilical cord is and its importance during a woman’s pregnancy. The umbilical cord connects the developing baby to its mother. The umbilical cord delivers the nutrients and oxygen a baby needs to develop during pregnancy. It has two arteries and one vein, which have a protective layer. That layer has Wharton’s jelly and is further wrapped in an amnion membrane.
The vein is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients, while the arteries remove waste and deoxygenated blood. Doctors clamp the umbilical cord once your baby is born and cut it. This process is not painful as there are no nerve endings in the umbilical cord. After a few weeks, the remaining portion falls off, which is what gives a baby its belly button.
Umbilical Cord Compression
Umbilical cord compression is one of the most common umbilical cord problems that can develop during pregnancy. Compression happens when some pressure partially or entirely shuts off the umbilical cord’s blood flow. A baby might be able to survive a brief period of umbilical cord compression. However, an extended compression period can result in severe birth injuries, such as brain damage or fetal acidosis.
The most common signs of umbilical cord compression include:
- A decrease in movement or activity of the baby or
- An irregular heartbeat.
Doctors may observe the change in a heartbeat using fetal monitoring. This change in heart rate is one of the most recognizable signs of umbilical cord compression. Recognizing the signs of umbilical cord problems is crucial; otherwise, your baby could be stillborn or have a severe birth injury.
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) may also indicate that umbilical cord compression has occurred. When a fetus is deprived of nutrients for too long, it won’t grow at a standard rate. A prenatal ultrasound can help diagnose IUGR, allowing the doctor to check blood flow in the cord to the placenta.
Common Causes of Umbilical Cord Compression
Several different issues cause umbilical cord compression. Some of the most common causes include the following.
As its name suggests, a true knot is when the umbilical cord is tied in a knot. If the knot tightens, the result is severe cord compression. A baby’s movement inside the womb can cause a true knot. Other potential causes include:
- An overly long umbilical cord,
- Gestational diabetes,
- An abnormally small fetus,
- The presence of too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios), and
- Twins sharing the same amniotic sac (monoamniotic twins).
Doctors should monitor the baby closely if activity decreases, especially after 37 weeks. It may be necessary to check for a heartbeat and test for umbilical cord problems right away.
Nuchal cord refers to a complication where the umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck. Sometimes a nuchal cord doesn’t impact the baby’s development as the blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow are not affected. Nuchal cords are relatively common in pregnancies, occurring in 10 to 29% of fetuses, increasing with advancing gestation age.
Nuchal cords become dangerous when the umbilical cord wraps too tightly around the baby’s neck, interrupting the blood flow. This scenario happens more often during labor and delivery. Doctors will need to act fast and may have to deliver the baby by C-section before there’s a risk of permanent brain injury.
Some of the most common birth injuries from a nuchal cord are cerebral palsy (CP), birth asphyxiation, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Injuries resulting from nuchal cords are often preventable. If you believe your baby’s birth injuries are due to an umbilical cord injury, contact O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble today.
Umbilical Cord Prolapse
Umbilical cord prolapse is when the cord starts to slip through the birth canal either before the baby (overt cord prolapse) or alongside the baby (occult cord prolapse). The umbilical cord should follow the baby out of the birth canal in a normal delivery, not precede it.
Umbilical cord prolapse is very dangerous because it can compress the cord, causing severe birth injuries, such as birth asphyxiation and HIE. Doctors should be able to diagnose and monitor an umbilical cord prolapse, especially in the last trimester. It may be necessary to deliver the baby by C-section to reduce the risk of a birth injury.
Abnormal Amniotic Fluid Levels
The presence of too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) is one of the causes of true knots, nuchal cords, and umbilical cord prolapse, all of which can lead to umbilical cord compression. However, too little fluid (oligohydramnios) can also lead to umbilical cord compression. Amniotic fluid is crucial for fetal development as it provides cushioning for the umbilical cord and the fetus.
Other Signs of Umbilical Cord Problems
While umbilical cord compression is one of the most common problems leading to an umbilical cord injury, there are other potential concerns to look out for as well.
Short Umbilical Cords
When the umbilical cord is too short, a baby’s movements can tear or stretch the umbilical cord or placenta, known as placental abruption. A baby’s umbilical cord should be long enough for the fetus to move around without stretching it but not too long where it gets tangled or knotted.
With placental abruption, the mother could hemorrhage a significant amount of blood, putting herself and the fetus at risk.
Vasa previa is a very serious condition that needs to be caught early; otherwise, it can lead to dire consequences for a fetus. Vasa means vessels, and previa means before. This condition means the fetal blood vessels depart the umbilical cord for the amniotic sac membranes. With one or more blood vessels growing near the cervix, there is a risk of tearing. Pressure from the fetus or childbirth can cause the blood vessels to tear, which means your baby will be deprived of oxygen.
When vasa previa is not diagnosed timely, it can result in stillbirth. If the doctor catches it before delivery, they can do a C-section which increases the baby’s odds of survival.
Infection in the Umbilical Cord
If the fetal membranes become infected, the infection could spread, including to the umbilical cord and amniotic fluid. This type of infection is known as intra-amniotic infection (IAI). An infection of the umbilical cord is called funisitis. Prenatal infections are serious and can account for 40 to 70% of preterm deliveries. Research suggests that a prenatal infection could damage the baby’s developing brain and other organs.
Treatment for an Umbilical Cord Injury
Doctors should carefully monitor for any signs of umbilical cord problems throughout a woman’s pregnancy. Potential treatment options will vary based on the issue, but you might need an early C-section to reduce the risk of a severe birth injury.
Another potential treatment option once your baby is born is cooling therapy. Cooling therapy could slow or stop permanent injuries caused by a reduced or lack of blood flow to the brain.
New Jersey Legal Assistance for an Umbilical Cord Injury
Everyone hopes that when they get pregnant and have a baby, everything will go smoothly and their medical providers will promptly diagnose any issues. Doctors should take all signs of umbilical cord problems seriously. When they don’t, it can have dire results for the fetus.
If your medical providers failed to recognize the warning signs of umbilical cord problems and your baby suffers an umbilical cord injury, you could have a claim for medical negligence.
When a medical professional’s negligence leads to a physical injury in your baby, it can constitute medical malpractice. Pursuing a medical malpractice claim is complicated. You need a skilled New Jersey medical malpractice attorney to guide you through the process.
The malpractice lawyers at O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble have years of experience assisting victims of medical negligence, including birth injuries. Our legal team holds the record for the largest birth injury verdict in New Jersey. We know what it takes to build a strong case and the importance of holding these negligent medical professionals accountable for their actions.
If your baby suffered harm due to medical negligence, let us help you fight for the maximum compensation possible. While no amount of money will correct the injuries they caused, financial compensation can help you pay for the lifelong medical treatments and assistance your baby needs.
Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation to learn more about how our New Jersey medical malpractice attorney can help you hold a doctor accountable for an umbilical cord injury.