What Are the Responsibilities of Doctors and Nurses During Childbirth?
If you’ve ever been in a birthing suite, whether delivering a child yourself or supporting a loved one with their childbirth process, then you’re likely aware of how tense it can be in that environment. The situation is not all that different in an operating room if you undergo a Caesarean section (C-section). In both situations, there are a lot of people crowded into a very small room, and you and your baby’s health and safety are contingent upon everyone knowing their role and doing what they’re trained to do.
One misstep a doctor, nurse, or surgical team member makes can cause you or your baby to suffer adverse health consequences or a person’s wrongful death. Below, we’ll explore doctors’ and nurses’ different responsibilities during childbirth. We’ll also highlight any legal options you might have if a health care provider breaches the duty of care they owe you.
What Labor and Delivery Nurses Are Responsible for During Childbirth
Labor and delivery (L&D) nurses spend the most time with expectant mothers. As the name suggests, they’re there during the labor, birth, and postpartum periods. Nurses are critical in ensuring new moms are comfortable, assisting them with their needs, quelling their fears, and providing moral support when they need it most.
These nurses serve far more than a supportive role to patients, though. They also are responsible for:
- Starting an intravenous (IV) line
- Asking you about your contractions and assessing them
- Administering medications
- Keeping an eye on both the baby and mother’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rates
- Taking note of any potential complications as they arise and addressing them with doctors if necessary
- Tracking an expectant mother’s contractions
Labor and delivery nurses would also be responsible for prepping an expectant mother for their C-section procedure.
What Doctors Are Responsible for During Childbirth
The physicians who attend births, obstetricians, are specially trained to support women through their pregnancies, during the labor and delivery process, and during the postnatal period.
Doctors are responsible for the following during the childbirth process:
- Performing a vaginal exam to check for the extent of your cervical dilation
- Keeping tabs on you and your baby’s vital signs
- Facilitating the birth of the fetus
- Making swift decisions when changes to a birth plan need to occur
In terms of the latter, Philadelphia doctors must be aware of potential patient high-risk factors and vital signs, and must be able to make decisions that are in the mother and baby’s best interests, even if that involves a change in birth plan from vaginal to C-section childbirth. Therefore, another responsibility doctors have during childbirth is to perform C-sections if warranted. There are many responsibilities unique to surgical teams in situations like these.
Anesthesiologists are also involved in vaginal childbirths. They are responsible for administering epidurals once mothers have reached a certain point in the labor process.
Responsibilities the Surgical Team Has During a Caesarean Section Childbirth
The medical team assisting with a C-section surgery is comprised of primary nurses and doctors. The physicians attending the birth may include the obstetrician and anesthesiologists.
The nurses or surgical assistants are responsible for monitoring the mother and baby’s vital signs, passing tools to the doctor, and ensuring they’re recovered at the end before the mother is stitched up.
Obstetricians’ primary responsibility is getting the baby out of the womb as safely as possible while keeping the mom safe. They accomplish this by making an incision in the woman’s lower abdomen to access the uterus. They’re also responsible for controlling bleeding and stitching mothers up after their surgery is complete.
Anesthesiologists are responsible for ascertaining what an adequate dosage of anesthesia is for a patient and administering it. It’s also their responsibility to monitor moms for any signs of adverse reactions to the anesthesia.
Adverse Outcomes That May Arise Out of Labor and Delivery Providers Not Adequately Performing Their Jobs
Complications may arise during childbirth, resulting in a medical provider facing a medical malpractice lawsuit here in Pennsylvania. Birth injuries like this are what our talented team of attorneys at Shrager & Sachs focus a larger part of our Philadelphia law practice on.
Nurses, the hospitals they work for, and doctors can all face legal action if their breach of duty of care (negligence) results in a patient suffering harm.
Nurses may face medical malpractice lawsuits associated with childbirth if they:
- Inhibit the patient from receiving adequate care from their physician
- Fail to adequately monitor vital signs to help them notice fetal distress
- Inadequately perform assigned tasks or fail to intervene as appropriate
- Commit medication errors, like administering too much of a drug or the wrong one
- Don’t let the doctor know of changes in a mother or fetus’ condition
Patients most commonly take legal action stemming from the childbirth process against obstetricians when they:
- Improperly use assisted birthing tools
- Inadequately monitor vital signs, like oxygen intake
- Fail to adequately anticipate complications, resulting in birth injuries
In the case of the latter, birth injuries can affect a mother or baby and often stem from:
- Inadequate prenatal care, including delayed diagnoses or failures to diagnose
- Doctors’ failures to inform expectant mothers of fetus abnormalities
- Inadequately diagnosing and treating maternal infections
Anesthesiologists most commonly face medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from them administering too much or too little anesthesia, resulting in complications during the vaginal childbirth or C-section birth process.
Understanding the Duty of Care Concept
Philadelphia doctors are required to uphold a duty of care when treating patients. This duty of care is the same obligation that individuals have to avoid causing personal injury incidents, such as in the case of car accidents or premises liability scenarios.
In the medical context, this “reasonable physician” standard requires physicians and other health care providers to act similarly to how another doctor with similar training in the same general geographic area would act under similar circumstances.
A breach of duty is when a doctor or other health care provider fails to treat you in alignment with their duty of care. While not all situations that negatively impact your health stem from negligence, some do. Plaintiffs can generally file medical malpractice lawsuits when their adverse circumstances were preventable had a doctor or someone else on their health care team exercised an appropriate duty of care.
What To Do if Your Medical Team Failed You During Childbirth
If you or your baby had your lives adversely impacted by the childbirth process, then you may have a valid birth injury claim. Shoulder dystocia, cerebral palsy, and complications associated with post-partum hemorrhaging are just some examples of reasons why parents file medical malpractice claims here in Philadelphia.
Medical malpractice cases like these can be hard yet not impossible to prove. An attorney from Shrager & Sachs will want to review your medical records to determine if you have a valid claim.
There’s no cost associated with sitting down with a medical malpractice attorney to discuss the responsibilities of doctors and nurses during childbirth and whether your health care team breached their duties of care. Reach out to us to schedule that meeting today so that we can help you start building your Pennsylvania medical malpractice claim if warranted.