A Nationwide Birth Injury Resource

Birth-Related Infections and Sepsis

When an infection spreads to a newborn's body during childbirth, he or she can sustain lifelong damage. Improperly treated or managed infections are an unfortunately common cause of birth injury.

Understanding the role of infections in birth injuries

Infections, whether bacterial or viral, can cause a potentially devastating complication called meningitis if not treated. Meningitis is swelling of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. When the swelling becomes severe enough, it can cause permanent damage to the brain. Brain injuries caused by infections can cause lifelong medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

When an infection spreads to the bloodstream, this is a potentially fatal complication called sepsis. Sepsis in newborns can cause septic shock, which severely decreases blood flow and can cause the brain to become deprived of oxygen. Because neonatal sepsis is so serious, the standard of care is to order a cell culture test - and start treatment with antibiotics before the test results even come back. Waiting too long can cause severe complications.

Several types of infections can cause these complications if untreated. The most common is group b streptococcus (GBS), which is an infection in the mother's body that can be transmitted to the baby either before or during delivery. Others include staph infections, E coli, and some sexually transmitted infections like herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Risk factors for infection

Premature births are at particular risk of contracting infections. Other risk factors include:

  • Birth trauma
  • Low birth weight
  • Urinary tract abnormalities in the mother
  • Galactosemia (a medical condition that causes difficulty breaking down sugars) in the mother
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM) - that is, the mother's water breaks early

With proper medical intervention, infections can be caught and treated before they can harm a baby. In some cases, this means administering medications, such as antibiotics, to kill the infection. In other circumstances, doctors need to induce labor or perform a c-section in order to safely deliver the baby without transmitting the infection.

While not every infection is preventable, many are. Doctors and medical professionals need to take appropriate action to protect newborns from the dangers of infections, meningitis and sepsis. If your child was injured due to an infection, a free consultation with an attorney in your state may help you find out what happened and explore your legal options.