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Contractions of the mother’s uterus (womb) are a natural part of childbirth. Successful labour and vaginal delivery depend on the mother’s uterine contractions opening (dilating) the cervix and pushing the baby down into the birth canal.
Although a natural event, modern maternity care recognises that childbirth isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. There are risks to mother and baby in giving birth to a baby without medical or midwifery supervision. Labour and delivery sometimes need assistance to ensure that the birth takes place within a timeframe that is safe for mother and baby. Slow progress in labour can be a sign of problems ahead, such as an obstructed delivery. It can also delay the birth of a baby who needs to be delivered before they suffer injury from lack of oxygen.
Contractions are stimulated during labour by a natural hormone from the pituitary gland, called oxytocin. When progress of labour is slow, maternity teams use a synthetic oxytocin drug, sometimes called Syntocinon, to stimulate the mother’s contractions. If used in the right circumstances, ‘augmentation’ or boosting of contractions with Syntocinon can help speed up delivery. However, when Syntocinon is used incorrectly, it can cause hyperstimulation of the mother’s uterus (womb), leaving the mother at risk of uterine rupture and maternal death, and risking severe brain injury to the baby.
Mistakes in Syntocinon use, hyperstimulation and uterine rupture often feature in cerebral palsy and serious birth injury claims. In the last two years alone, Boyes Turner’s birth injury and cerebral palsy specialists have recovered over £80 million in compensation for clients who have suffered devastating injury from hyperstimulation, uterine rupture or Syntocinon/oxytocin errors in maternity care.
What causes hyperstimulation of the uterus in labour?
Uterine stimulant drugs are sometimes used to stimulate uterine contractions, either to induce (start) or ‘augment’ (speed up) labour. When given to a woman in labour, Syntocinon works in the same way as the body’s oxytocin hormone by stimulating the uterus to contract.
Syntocinon is a very powerful stimulant and must be administered in very small doses. It is usually given to the mother via a drip. The dosage can easily be adjusted and if progress in labour remains slow, it is often turned up to try to get things moving. Syntocinon should only be used under certain conditions. Once administered, the mother’s contractions and the fetal heart rate (a key indicator of the unborn baby’s health) should be monitored continuously and the mother’s overall condition kept under careful review. If Syntocinon is used inappropriately or in excessive amounts, the mother’s contractions may occur too close together or become too strong. This condition is known as uterine hyperstimulation and can lead to life-threatening injury to the mother from uterine rupture and severe haemorrhage (bleeding).
Uterine hyperstimulation is also dangerous for the woman’s unborn child who may not be able to cope with the increased stress that it suffers from excessive and very frequent contractions. The baby may struggle to get enough oxygen and show signs of distress. Where the mother’s uterus ruptures, the baby’s blood ( and oxygen) supply may be cut off by the mother’s drop in blood pressure from her own bleeding. The stress of a hyperstimulated labour can cause brain damage to the unborn baby, even if the uterus does not rupture. Delays in delivery and resuscitation can cause severe brain injury to the baby who continues to suffer brain damage until their oxygen supply is restored.
Whenever Syntocinon is used in labour, the baby’s condition must be carefully monitored by continuous electronic fetal heart-rate monitoring. This is important to ensure that any deterioration in the baby’s condition is spotted as early as possible. The midwife should also monitor closely the strength and frequency of maternal contractions. Syntocinon should be reduced or stopped completely if there are any signs of fetal distress or hyperstimulation.
Where incorrect use of syntocinon and hyperstimulation result in severe injury to the mother or baby, they may be entitled to claim substantial compensation.
Boyes Turner’s recent cases
Our experienced, nationally acclaimed birth injury team are highly skilled in recovering maximum compensation for clients who have suffered severe injury as a result of negligent maternity care.
Recent cases involving Syntocinon errors, hyperstimulation or uterine rupture include:
- £2.75 million (including £1,845,000 interim payments whilst the case was ongoing) plus lifelong payments rising to £300,000pa for a child with cerebral palsy caused by incorrect use of Syntocinon during labour
- admission of liability in an ongoing case for a boy whose cerebral palsy was caused by uterine hyperstimulation from excessive Syntocinon during his birth
- £24 million for a child with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy caused by prolonged uterine hyperstimulation in labour and delayed delivery
- £12 million for a child who suffered cerebral palsy after a mismanaged VBAC led to uterine rupture
- £16 million for a child with dystonic cerebral palsy caused by inappropriate Syntocinon use despite fetal distress and excessive delay in delivery
If you or your child have suffered severe injury as a result of negligent maternity care, you can speak to one of our experienced team to find out more about making a claim for compensation by contacting us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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