Helping Mothers Who Develop Prenatal Infections

During the period of pregnancy, a mother is more susceptible to acquiring not only infection, but also a more severe infection than normal. The reason stems from the fact that the mother's natural immune system is temporarily weakened during pregnancy. Any failure of doctors or another medical personnel to properly diagnose and treat maternal infections during pregnancy can have devastating consequences for the baby and produce serious birth injuries.

When doctors and birthing teams fail to properly and timely diagnose and manage maternal infections, they may be in violation of the required expected standard of medical care. When this breach of standard medical care is demonstrated in cases involving the mother or baby, medical staff or the hospital itself may be held liable for medical negligence and malpractice.

What Is Infant Chorioamnionitis?

Chorioamnionitis is an infection the mother acquires during pregnancy, which impacts the placenta and membranes surrounding the infant in the womb. A woman may contract chorioamnionitis when bacteria make their way through the vagina and upward into the uterus. Infection can disturb the exchange of gases and nutrients between the mother and the baby and also trigger early labor. This infection can also be transmitted to the baby during the process of vaginal birth through the umbilical cord.

Most often, chorioamnionitis is harmless and not life-threatening to the baby. However, in rare cases, the infection may be improperly managed and potentially leave the baby with lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy or periventricular leukomalacia. Doctors can take pre-emptive action to prevent the spread of this infection through administering antibiotics to the mother and/or performing an early and timely C-section delivery.

Causes Of Infant Chorioamnionitis

Chorioamnionitis most often develops as a result of maternal infection and begins in the mother's vaginal region. The types of bacteria that lead to this serious maternal infection include E. coli, anaerobic bacteria and Group B Streptococcus. It's important for doctors to treat these viruses properly to prevent the potential development of chorioamnionitis.

Additional risk factors for the development of chorioamnionitis include:

  • Long, stressful labor
  • First pregnancy
  • Sustained ruptured membranes
  • The mother giving birth at less than 21 years of age
  • Extreme levels of uterine and/or fetal monitoring

Diagnosis Of Infant Chorioamnionitis

The symptoms that are recognized in the diagnosis of chorioamnionitis in infants include:

  • Seizures
  • Pulmonary issues such as apnea, respiratory distress and cyanosis
  • Fatigue, poor sucking and weak crying
  • Hematologic issues such as purpura and pallor
  • Gastrointestinal problems (i.e., diarrhea, vomiting and bloody stools)

Treatment Of Infant Chorioamnionitis

Due to the serious danger posed by chorioamnionitis in infants, treatment generally involves performing a prompt delivery of the baby. In some severe cases, the infant may require surgery if he or she has one of the following conditions at birth:

  • Joint and/or bone infection
  • Infection around the pleural area
  • Serious abdominal infection
  • Brain or subcutaneous abscess

Most of the time antibiotics are administered to the mother in order to treat the infection. The infant may also be given antibiotics if necessary. Other treatments used to address chorioamnionitis in infants include:

  • Artificial breathing tubes
  • Balancing the infant's glucose levels
  • Providing infant intubation and ventilation

Additional Dangerous Maternal Infections

There are a number of other serious infections that could lead to birth injuries for the mother or the child.

Group B Strep

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a type of bacteria commonly found in the mother's urinary tract, rectum or vagina. About one fourth of all pregnant mothers carry this type of bacteria. Although an adult woman doesn't need to be concerned too much if she has a GBS infection, if she is pregnant with the infection the baby can be at serious risk. GBS consists of the type of bacteria most often associated with chorioamnionitis. A GBS infection can be acquired by the baby from the mother during pregnancy or delivery. GBS is also the most common source of severe, life-threatening infections in newborn babies, including pneumonia and meningitis.

E. coli

When pathogenic E. coli resides in a pregnant woman's vagina, the infant can acquire an infection during delivery. Infants can also be subjected to E. coli infection after delivery — this can occur due to medical professionals failing to sterilize their hands and uniforms.

Toxoplasmosis

The infection referred to as toxoplasmosis results from a common parasite — toxoplasma gondii. This is a single cell parasite commonly found in soil, cat feces and raw meat. If a pregnant mother contracts toxoplasmosis, the baby can also acquire the infection from her and potentially develop serious physical and cognitive defects. Other possible devastating effects upon the baby include hearing loss, brain injury and even blindness.

UTI and Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and urinary tract infection (UTI) are two common health issues a pregnant mother may experience. If these conditions are left undiagnosed, improperly treated or mismanaged, they can precipitate severe and even permanent injuries and health problems for the baby.

Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection occurring in the vagina. It is due to an imbalance of bacterial flora, which is naturally occurring. It is the most common vaginal infection among women in their childbearing years. About 20 percent of women acquire the infection during pregnancy. The baby is at risk for infection and the development of conditions such as brain damage, meningitis, sepsis, cerebral palsy and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) if BV and UTI are diagnosed incorrectly or mismanaged during the mother's pregnancy.

Listeriosis

Listeriosis is a result of a bacterium called listeria that is often ingested with raw or uncooked food. Listeriosis is usually present in the third trimester of pregnancy and manifests with flu-like symptoms such as nausea and fever. The baby is at great risk during pregnancy if a listeria infection is present. The bacteria can make its way into the fetal membrane and bring about stillbirth, miscarriage or a serious infection in an infant. If the infection is noticed quickly enough, it can be addressed with antibiotics.

Syphilis

During pregnancy, the sexually transmitted disease, syphilis, can be transferred from the mother to the infant through open sores in the mother's birth canal. Syphilis in babies before and after birth can result in brain damage, vision loss, hearing loss, stillbirth or neonatal death. Many times mothers are not even aware they have the disease, as it can remain dormant in the body for many years. Therefore, pregnant women should be tested for syphilis during the early stages of their pregnancy.

Hepatitis B

A disease that infects the liver — hepatitis B — is transmittable from the mother to the baby during pregnancy and delivery. It is extremely dangerous for babies to contract hepatitis B before or during birth. Infants with the disease can suffer from cancer and liver damage. Therefore, it is vital for pregnant mothers to be tested early on in their pregnancy for hepatitis B.