C-Section Injuries

Quick Answer

A Cesarean section (C-section) is a surgical procedure typically used when vaginal birth has failed or become dangerous. A C-section may be planned in advance or done as an emergency procedure after labor has started. Mistakes made by doctors before, during, and after surgery can injure both mother and baby, sometimes permanently.

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What Is a C-Section?

A C-section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through an incision in the abdomen and uterus. C-sections require only regional anesthesia, meaning mothers can stay awake throughout the process but should not be able to feel, hear, or see anything.

Initially developed as an emergency procedure to save a fetus after the mother has died, C-sections now account for roughly 32% of all live births in the United States each year.

While C-sections may seem routine, delivering a baby via C-section is still a major surgery — and all surgeries run the risk of potential complications. Having a C-section doubles the risk of maternal morbidity and mortality, partially from complications from the procedure itself and partially because the health conditions that make one necessary may themselves be fatal.

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Why Have a C-Section?

There are many reasons a woman might need to have a C-section. In some cases, a woman may know that she will probably require one due to her medical history or conditions surrounding the pregnancy.

However, most first-time C-sections are a result of unforeseen complications during labor.

Common reasons for C-section include:

  • Breech birth
  • Fetal distress
  • Labor failing to progress
  • Maternal health concerns (heart condition, brain condition, active genital
  • herpes infection)
  • Multiple births (twins or triplets)
  • Obstruction of the birth canal
  • Previous C-section
  • Prolapsed umbilical cord
  • Trouble with the placenta

Some women may choose to schedule a C-section even when it is not indicated by any preexisting conditions. However, most doctors counsel against doing so. The risk of injuries to both the mother and baby generally outweighs the convenience.

What Types of Injuries Are Caused by C-Section?

Delivering a baby via C-section may be necessary to prevent loss of life, but it comes with risks of its own. Complications from mistakes made during surgery can affect both mother and baby.

Injuries to the Mother

Undergoing a C-section opens women up to a wide variety of potential complications. Mistakes made during the procedure — or delaying the procedure once it becomes apparent that it is necessary — can have dangerous consequences.

C-section injuries to the mother may include:

  • Adverse reaction to anesthesia
  • Blood clots
  • Endometritis (infection of the uterine lining)
  • Surgical-site infection (SSI)
  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Surgical injury

Women who have had one C-section are also more likely to require the procedure for future births. Data from 2018 shows that fewer than 10% of women succeed in having a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC), and those who do attempt it are at increased risk of severe complications like uterine rupture.

Injuries to the Baby

An improperly conducted C-section can also pose a significant risk to the child. Consequences range from temporary injuries, easily treated after birth, to lifelong conditions that can affect a family forever.

C-section injuries to the child may include:

One 2019 study also links C-section birth to higher rates of autism and ADHD. However, further study is necessary, as this line of research is still very new and the potential link is not well understood.

Causes of C-Section Injuries

C-section injuries can be caused by a variety of sources. Decisions made by doctors before, during, and after labor can have permanent physical and financial consequences for families.

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Common causes of C-section injuries include:

  • Delayed C-section: May cause brain damage to the fetus and an increased chance of ruptured membranes in the mother.
  • Mistakes during surgery: Both mother and baby are at risk of lacerations and other injuries during surgery. Bladder and bowel perforations in the mother may mean further surgery to fix mistakes. These injuries occur in roughly 12% of C-section patients.
  • Poor aftercare: Infections at the surgical site and in the lining of the uterus (endometritis) are a common complication following a C-section. Surgical site infections occur in roughly 22% of C-section patients.

Women who have a C-section after labor has already begun may be at additional risk of infection as the torn membranes common in difficult births represent an additional risk while healing.

Are C-Section Injuries Preventable?

Most C-section injuries are preventable. Patients should be counseled before going into the delivery room on the likelihood of a C-section delivery and what it would entail. By keeping patients informed, doctors can help reduce emotional distress and confusion in the event that an emergency C-section is necessary.

Proper training for medical staff is critical to preventing surgical injuries and reducing delays. Quickly recognizing when a C-section is called for can reduce injuries to both the mother and baby and prevent lifelong consequences.

Further, ensuring that help is available in the event of an emergency is very important. A lack of personnel can result in severe trauma, as was the case when a San Diego woman was forced to undergo a C-section procedure without anesthetic after an anesthesiologist could not be found quickly enough.

New methods of wound care can greatly reduce instances of infection. Doctors using a combination of vaginal cleansing and azithromycin (an antibiotic) saw a significant drop in cases of both surgical-site infections and endometritis following C-sections.

When emergencies do occur, it is up to the medical team to handle them safely and effectively. All patients have the right to expect appropriate care regardless of the situation. When medical staff members fail to provide this care, they are in breach of their duty to their patients — and it may be considered medical negligence.

Learn More About C-Section Injuries and Medical Negligence

Roughly one-third of all live births in the United States each year are C-sections, and yet some doctors and hospitals remain chronically unprepared to handle them. Injuries sustained during birth can have devastating physical, emotional, and financial consequences for families.

If you or your child have suffered complications following a C-section, don’t hesitate to seek information and expert assistance. Get the help you need with a free legal case review.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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