9th to 15th October is Baby Loss Awareness Week, an opportunity for bereaved families and friends to commemorate the lives of their babies. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness around the causes of baby loss. This week is close to our hearts at Switalskis, as we assist families navigating the legal process following baby loss during pregnancy or in their early lives.
One of the main causes that is seen in baby loss cases, is undiagnosed or untreated fetal growth restriction (also known as intrauterine growth restriction). In this blog, we will look at this condition and at a recent case involving a bereaved family that was supported by Switalskis’ medical negligence team.
What is fetal growth restriction?
It is a condition in which an unborn baby’s growth slows or stops during pregnancy. This occurs in 3% of pregnancies and those babies are at risk of a number of health problems, which sadly includes death.
Fetal growth restriction has a number of different causes. Problems with the placenta that prevent the baby from receiving enough nutrients, or certain health problems with the mother, may result in fetal growth restriction. It can also be caused by chromosomal defects or when mum is carrying more than one baby, where it is no reflection on mum’s health.
Tragically, there is no treatment and if a baby is diagnosed with this then a plan must be put in place to monitor the baby very carefully to check for deterioration in the baby’s condition and deliver if necessary.
The difficulty with fetal growth restriction is that parents can’t see or feel it themselves. It is not something that parents would be alerted to by feeling, because it happens silently whilst in the womb, and in most cases it should be identified by the midwives and doctors.
The worst outcome for fetal growth restriction is a stillbirth, where a baby is born after 24 weeks but never takes a breath.
Sadly, this was the outcome for Sarah, Tom and baby Johnathan ‘John’*.
Sarah and Tom became pregnant with John, their first child in 2014. The pregnancy was going well until the 20 week scan when the baby was identified as being small. Sarah discussed this with her midwife who reassured her there was nothing to worry about.
Sarah saw her midwife regularly in the following months and no concerns were raised. At 34 weeks John’s heartbeat could not be found, Sarah was referred for a review in hospital later that day.
When Sarah attended the hospital the midwife still couldn’t find John’s heartbeat and after a review with a doctor Sarah was told that John had died. Sarah was induced and gave birth to John. Sarah and Tom were told that their baby had died from fetal growth restriction.
The consequences of baby loss
As a consequence of the loss of her baby Sarah developed an adjustment disorder and a prolonged depressive reaction and could not return to work for a number of months.
A claim was brought by Sarah and Tom because they were concerned that the hospital had failed to act on the small size of John at 20 weeks. After investigations the hospital accepted that they had failed to refer Sarah for further investigations for fetal growth restriction at her 20 week scan and that if they had, Sarah would have undergone increased monitoring and delivered a healthy baby at 32 weeks. Following negotiations, a settlement was reached and Sarah received £30,000 in damages.
It is important to remember that stillbirths are usually preventable in cases of fetal growth restriction. But it must be identified and acted upon to prevent parents like Sarah and Tom from going through the tragedy of losing their child before he was born.
To find out more about about Baby Loss Awareness week and how you can get involved in the campaign, please visit:
If you have experienced a failure to diagnose fetal growth restriction or have lost your baby due to similar problems please contact the medical negligence team at Switalskis Solicitors. To speak to a member of the team, please call us on 0800 138 0458 or send us a message via the contact form below.
*Names have been changed
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.