During pregnancy, the fetus is surrounded by layers of protection including the chorion (the outer membrane of the amniotic sac), the amnion (the protective layer that holds amniotic fluid) and the amniotic fluid itself, which allows the baby to move while developing, providing both warmth as well as protection.
During pregnancy, the fetus breathes amniotic fluid in and out of its lungs, which not only helps them learn how to breathe, but also strengthens the lungs so they are prepared to take in air after birth.
Infant chorioamnionitis is caused when any of these important membranes becomes infected either before or during labor.
The condition is rarely seen in premature births, and is not all that common is full-term deliveries. Approximately two to four percent of all births are impacted by the bacterial infection.
Causes of Chorioamnionitis
Chorioamnionitis is the result of a bacterial infection that travels from the vagina to the uterus, where it can infect the membranes protecting the fetus. Some common infections that can cause the condition include E. coli, group B streptococci and anaerobic bacteria, which are bacteria that are not exposed to oxygen, and can include urinary tract infections or infections found in the digestive tract.
While there are not always symptoms associated with chorioamnionitis, some include:
- A high fever, which according to the National Institutes of Health is one of the main indicators of the condition.
- A rapid heartbeat.
- Pain and tenderness of the uterus.
- Discolored, foul-scented vaginal discharge.
Risk Factors of Chorioamnionitis
Pregnant women who are most at risk of developing the bacterial infection include moms who are less than 21 years old; moms who are experiencing their first pregnancy; moms who experience a long, difficult labor; moms with ruptured membranes who do not go into labor quickly and undergo multiple vaginal exams while membranes are ruptured, creating an environment for bacteria to spread; moms with preexisting vaginal or urinary tract infections; and moms who have undergone excessive fetal or uterine monitoring.
Potential problems for the mother include pelvic or uterine infections, painful endometriosis, blood clots and sepsis, an infection of the blood that can be life-threatening.
If chorioamnionitis is diagnosed, the mother will be given antibiotics to treat the infection and a cesarean section may be scheduled.
If the condition is not diagnosed, potential problems for babies include:
- Inflammation of the brain, which can lead to lasting brain damage.
- Pulmonary problems including respiratory distress, apnea or cyanosis, a blue discoloration of the skin that suggests there is a limited amount of oxygen circulating through the baby’s bloodstream.
- Infections of the tissue between the lungs and the chest cavity.
- Abdominal infections.
- Bone or joint infections.
- Infections of the bloodstream.
- Fatigue or lethargy.
- Weak cries and difficulty feeding.
- Gastrointestinal woes including bloody stools, diarrhea and vomiting.
- Bleeding beneath the skin, resulting in a purplish rash known as purpura.
- Unnaturally pale skin.
In some cases, treatment may require surgery, but because chorioamnionitis is such a serious diagnosis, infants will likely be delivered as quickly as possible so that they can be treated for any infections before they can do long-lasting damage.
Other treatments may include intubation or the use of a ventilator in order to improve breathing function in serious cases, or a course of antibiotics in cases that are not quite as complicated.
Can Infant Chorioamnionitis Affect the My Baby After Birth?
While chorioamnionitis is not likely to result in any lasting problems if it is caught immediately and treated with antibiotics, if it is not treated it can result in a wide range of potentially deadly problems including meningitis (an infection of the lining of the spinal cord), sepsis (a dangerous infection of the blood) and serious respiratory problems that can limit oxygen to the brain, causing cognitive disabilities or problems with motor function.
Other significant problems can include pneumonia, which is dangerous for an infant, as well as inflammation of the brain, which can cause lasting damage.
Because it is a doctor’s responsibility to detect infections prior to birth, it is possible that your child’s chorioamnionitis is the result of medical negligence, and could be eligible for compensation from either the doctor who treated you or the hospital at which your baby was delivered.
If your baby suffered serious problems associated with chorioamnionitis, it is a smart idea to consult with an experienced attorney in order to determine what role the medical professionals who treated you played in your child’s diagnosis.
Lawyers who have a history of handling birth injury cases will have access to medical experts who can determine what caused the infection and whether or not it could have been prevented, and will be able to help recover financial compensation to cover the costs associated with your child’s birth injuries.
While no amount of money can ease the burden of a serious birth injury, having the financial burden lifted will allow you to focus on the care your child needs rather than the medical bills that could be accumulating.
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