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Cephalopelvic Disproportion and Birth Injury Negligence

By: Anapol Weiss

Cephalopelvic disproportion is the term for an infant’s head that is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis. Appropriate diagnosis of cephalopelvic disproportion typically results in the physician scheduling delivery by cesarean section.

When a physician makes a mistake or negligent oversight during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, cephalopelvic disproportion can go undiagnosed. This could put both mother and child at risk, and lead to birth injury negligence.

If you believe your doctor committed medical malpractice during the birth of your child, and your child suffered injuries as a result, contact a Philadelphia birth injury attorney. You may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and/or hospital.

What Causes Cephalopelvic Disproportion?

Many doctors misdiagnose failure to progress, or failure to descend, as cephalopelvic disproportion. Failure to progress means the baby is stuck in the birth canal or descending slower than normal. This can occur if the cervix does not start to open. Cephalopelvic disproportion, on the other hand, refers specifically to the ratio of the infant’s head to the mother’s pelvis. It does not have to do with the thinning out or dilating of the cervix. Many factors could cause cephalopelvic disproportion.

  • Abnormally shaped infant’s head
  • Mother’s pelvis is small or narrow
  • Late delivery or particularly large baby
  • Abnormal fetal positions
  • Abnormally shaped pelvis

Signs a doctor should recognize as symptoms of cephalopelvic disproportion include prolonged labor, fetal distress, a lot of amniotic fluid, and large fundal height (distance between pubic bone and top of the uterus). At the first signs of this issue, a doctor should appropriately recommend a solution to the situation to prevent injuries to mother or baby.

Cephalopelvic Disproportion and Medical Malpractice

It is a doctor’s legal duty to perform his or her job according to the best interests of the patient. Medical malpractice refers to a healthcare practitioner’s negligent or careless failure to exercise reasonable care during patient treatment, resulting in injuries or deaths. Birth injuries are a form of medical malpractice that can arise when a physician does not uphold the accepted standards of patient care during pregnancy, labor, or delivery.

Medical malpractice in a cephalopelvic disproportion case can take many forms.

  • Failure to properly diagnose cephalopelvic disproportion
  • Failure to recommend an emergency C-section
  • Pulling or tugging on the baby to free him or her from the birth canal
  • Improper use of birth-assisting tools, such as forceps or vacuums
  • Failure to monitor fetal vitals for signs of distress during labor or delivery
  • Lack of proper birthing methods in response to cephalopelvic disproportion

Diagnosing cephalopelvic disproportion is not an exact science. Unfortunately, it is difficult for doctors to make a correct diagnosis prior to the start of labor, since the mother’s pelvic joints spread to make room for the infant during delivery. However, measurements of the baby in utero and the mother’s pelvis, along with monitoring other risk factors, could help a physician come to a diagnosis in time to schedule a C-section instead of natural delivery. Negligent failure to diagnose or properly react to cephalopelvic disproportion could result in serious birth injuries.

The main risk involved in a case of cephalopelvic disproportion is the infant going too long without oxygen while stuck in the birth canal. Oxygen deprivation, or brain hypoxia, can interfere with the normal development of the infant’s brain. This could cause long-term or permanent brain damage, as well as infant death. It is up to the physician to recognize cephalopelvic disproportion, to monitor the infant’s vital signs, and to perform an emergency C-section if necessary to avoid lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain.

Negligent failure to diagnose or respond to cephalopelvic disproportion could result in cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other serious conditions. Birth injuries could affect a child for life.