Thanks to advances in modern medicine, the number of birth injuries has decreased dramatically. However, more than a hundred thousand mothers and newborns still suffer from preventable injuries during childbirth every year in the United States1.
One potentially deadly injury to newborn babies that could be prevented through careful monitoring and regular tests is fetal acidosis. Fetal acidosis is a medical term used to describe high levels of acidity in the blood and tissue of a fetus. This happens when the fetus does not get adequate levels of oxygen from the mother through the umbilical cord. Depending on the severity of the acidosis, it could result in permanent brain damage and even death.
In many cases, fetal acidosis could have been prevented with monitoring and care throughout the delivery. When an obstetrician, nurse, or medical facility fails to act in a reasonable manner that prevents injury, they could be sued for medical negligence.
Learn more about how parents of children with fetal acidosis have filed lawsuits and received compensation for injuries.
Acidosis is a term that describes the process of increasing acidity levels in the blood and tissue. Acidemia is the state of high acidity levels in the blood. Although acidosis is what leads up to acidaemia, these terms are often used interchangeably by the medical community.
Fetal acidosis is when the fetus develops increasing levels of acidity in the blood due to a disruption in the supply of blood and transfer of fetal gases.
When a baby is in the womb, it does not breathe through its lungs. Instead, the placenta provides nourishment and gas exchanges to the fetus through the umbilical cord.
The mother’s oxygenated blood travels from the placenta through the umbilical cord to the fetus’ heart. Once the oxygenated blood circulates throughout the baby’s body, it is carried back through the umbilical cord so the mother can eliminate the carbon dioxide.
When that process is compromised, it could result in fetal hypoxia and then fetal acidosis.
Fetal acidosis is usually broken down into respiratory acidosis and metabolic acidosis. Respiratory acidosis is when carbon dioxide begins to build up in the blood. This happens when the process of gas exchange — the delivery of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide through the placenta — is disrupted.
Excess carbon dioxide can cause the pH of blood and other bodily fluids to decrease. This ultimately makes them too acidic, according to Healthline2.
Fetal respiratory acidemia is usually defined as pH levels less than 7.2 with a partial pressure of carbon dioxide of the umbilical vein at 50 or higher.
A common cause for this type of acidosis is umbilical cord compression. For example, if the umbilical cord becomes knotted or stretched from too much movement, it can minimize the amount of gas exchange.
When there is adequate fetal oxygenation, normal metabolism in the fetal results in the production of lactic acid. When adequate fetal oxygenation does not happen, lactic acid begins to build up, according to an article in the Annals of Medical & Health Science Research3. The accumulation of lactic acid results in low fetal pH. This is called metabolic acidosis.
The ranges will sometimes vary, but fetal metabolic acidemia is also defined as pH levels of less than 7.2. Unlike respiratory acidosis, the CO2 levels are not increased in metabolic acidosis.
Respiratory acidosis is usually caused by short-term (hours) disruption of oxygenation to the fetus while metabolic acidosis is generally caused by long-term (days or weeks) disruption. Reasons for metabolic acidosis before birth include congenital heart diseases, birth asphyxia, and dehydration.
When fetal acidosis occurs, that means not enough oxygen is getting to the fetus. A lack of oxygen in babies is associated with several serious complications. These include:
The outcome of fetal acidosis depends on the severity and length of time oxygen to the fetus was limited.
According to an article in The BMJ, prevention of fetal acidosis is possible, but it requires good medical care4.
“Prevention of severe acute acidosis depends on good labour ward monitoring and care,” the authors wrote. “Prevention of chronic fetal acidosis, which is probably a much more common cause of damage, depends on detection of placental dysfunction antenatally by clinical fetal growth assessment, ultrasound scanning and Doppler ultrasonography.”
In many cases, doctors and nurses fail to act in a way that prevents injury at birth like fetal acidosis. If their actions or inactions are negligent, they could be held liable for medical malpractice.
To prove medical malpractice, an individual must show that a medical professional failed to provide treatment in line with the medical standard of care. Here are some examples of negligence that could cause fetal acidosis:
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, institution, or other health care professional causes an injury to a patient through a negligent act or omission, according to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys5.
If a negligent act or omission caused an infant to suffer from an injury, the wrongdoer could and should be held accountable in a court of law. An injury from fetal acidosis can result in lifelong medical issues like cognitive deficits and paralysis. Costly treatments, such as physical therapy and surgery, may be required to overcome the injuries from a preventable error.
Parents of children who suffered from fetal acidosis because nurses did not respond to warnings of fetal distress or because an obstetrician failed to monitor the fetal heartbeat on regular checkups have successfully filed lawsuits. Financial awards for economic damages have helped pay for medical expenses while awards for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering have provided some emotional relief.
Those who believe medical malpractice caused fetal acidosis in their child should contact a qualified attorney to find out more about next steps.
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