Fetal lacerations are a tear or cut that may occur during a caesarian section (C-section) delivery due to the use of forceps, scalpels, and other instruments. These injuries could be the result of improper procedures by negligent physicians, midwives, and other medical professionals.
According to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG), about 70 percent of fetal lacerations occur on the head, face, or ears; 20 percent occur on legs, ankles, or buttocks; and 10 percent occur on the back. Some of these injuries are mild and heal on their own, but others may require surgical repair.
Many instances of birth injury cases where the child suffers a fetal laceration are not reported. A 2018 study published by Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that there were 14 total lacerations across the 5,036 C-section deliveries recorded: 12 were classified as mild, one was moderate, and one was severe. The report found that documentation of fetal laceration was poor, only recorded in 42.8 percent of maternal medical records.
Other studies report higher occurrences of fetal lacerations. The American Pregnancy Association says an average of one or two babies of every 100 newborns will be cut during a C-section surgery.
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Classification of Fetal Lacerations
Fetal lacerations can be classified into three main categories:
- Mild: mild lacerations impact the skin only and do not need any type of medical intervention.
- Moderate: moderate lacerations involve both the skin and muscle, and may require topical tissue adhesives or adhesive plaster to heal properly.
- Severe: severe lacerations may require surgical intervention to repair the deeper tissue.
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Risks Factors That are Associated with Fetal Lacerations
There are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood a baby will suffer a fetal laceration, including:
- Having an emergency C-section delivery
- Performing a low transverse uterine incision
- Having an inexperienced physician or surgeon
Physician inexperience may be a major risk factor, as there are surgical methods they may not know they should take to reduce the risk of a fetal laceration. These include:
- Meticulously suctioning the site of the incision
- Removing the surgical instruments used to separate the incision
- Using a blunt-ended or bandaged tool to minimize the likelihood of making a deep laceration.
Complications from Fetal Lacerations
Many fetal lacerations are mild, only involving a slight nick of the skin that heals rapidly. However, if the laceration is moderate or severe, surgical intervention may be necessary, and there can be long-term consequences.
One of the long-term complications is that the scar left by the laceration may elongate as the child grows. Additionally, while the cut may be in a straight line when it occurs, as the child ages and the skin stretches their scar may appear more erratic. Depending on the location of the cut, this could affect the child’s future quality of life.
In cases where the fetal laceration is severe, the child may suffer nerve damage, such as facial nerve palsy. The infant may suffer paralysis in parts of the body and have mobility or sensory impairments. If the infant experiences a laceration to the eyes, they could suffer lifelong vision problems or blindness. Lacerations to the ears, depending on where they occur, may also result in hearing impairment.
Conditions that could occur as a result of fetal lacerations include:
- Facial nerve paralysis
- Paralysis caused by a laceration to the infant’s spinal cord
- Brachial plexus injuries like Erb’s palsy
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Fetal Laceration Treatment
In cases where the injury is mild, fetal lacerations are able to heal on their own. However, in cases where it is moderate or severe and penetrates the tissue, possibly going far enough to reach bone, surgical intervention may be necessary.
For moderate cases, suturing may be sufficient to close the wounds. However, if the physician needs to repair nerve damage or tendons, reconstructive surgery may still be necessary. In these cases, depending on the location of the injury, the child’s mobility could be affected.
If your child is suffering because of a moderate or severe laceration that occurred during a C-section delivery you believe was the result of a medical provider’s negligence, you may be able to hold them responsible. These cases can leave new parents overwhelmed and heartbroken about their child’s injury, so they should consider hiring a lawyer who better understands the expense they could be facing with physical therapy and specialist appointments.
The team from the Birth Injury Lawyers Group works on different birth injury cases, and can evaluate the details of your situation to help you understand what your legal options may be. For a free, no-risk review of your case, contact the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529.