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Legally Speaking: Decreasing amniotic fluid blamed for asphyxic infant

A Michigan woman was just over 40 weeks' gestation when she was sent to a hospital for a nonstress test.

The next day, she had contractions and spontaneous rupture of the membranes and returned to the hospital. Fetal heart rate strips showed severe abnormalities, and an emergency cesarean delivery was performed. The infant suffered asphyxia and has cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

The obstetrician was sued. The patient claimed that the significant decrease in amniotic fluid noted 6 days before delivery necessitated further evaluation and follow-up because the amniotic fluid could continue to decrease and become dangerously low, leading to umbilical cord compression and asphyxia, or that decreasing amniotic fluid could indicate that the placenta was getting old and not working well. The physician argued that the testing performed was within the normal range and that no further testing was necessary at that time. The event that occurred on the date of delivery was unpreventable and had nothing to do with any decrease in amniotic fluid noted a week earlier.