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Medication Errors

Medication Errors Causing Birth Injury

The use of medication to induce or stop labor, dull pain and prevent complications during pregnancy and delivery actually cause harm to the baby, in some instances. A baby is supplied oxygen and nutrients from the mother via the umbilical cord. Any substance a mother takes in is delivered directly into the baby's bloodstream. If not careful, medications can have adverse effects on the child resulting in serious reactions and possible death.

Some of the more common medication errors include:

  • Pharmaceutical errors in filling the prescription
  • Prescribing the wrong medication for the condition
  • Overdosing on medication
  • Giving a mother another person's medication
  • Prescribing a medication that is not safe for a baby
  • Combining medications, causing harm to the baby

Medication errors can also occur during post-delivery care of a newborn.

Effects of Pediatric Medication Errors

Studies show that two to three percent of all birth defects occur from drug use during pregnancy. This is true for both the illicit use of illegal drugs and the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications. While some drugs are harmless, others have serious, and potentially fatal effects on a fetus:

  • Some drugs can cause brain damage, abnormal development and even death of a fetus.
  • Medications may constrict blood vessels in the placenta, cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients to a fetus. The fetus may be underdeveloped or severely underweight because of the lack of nutrients.
  • Drugs can cause forceful contractions of the uterus, injuring the baby or causing pre-term labor.
  • Drugs used to reduce labor pain can sedate a baby and weaken responses to breathe.

The extent to which a drug affects a fetus will depend on the type of drug, the amount of drugs taken, and the baby's stage of development. For example, a typical prescription taken in small doses during the first few weeks of pregnancy may have no effects on the fetus. However, that same amount can cause miscarriage or birth defects a few weeks later when the baby's organs and life systems are developing. It is the responsibility of your doctor to know if your medications will affect your fetus, and make necessary adjustments to the dosage in order to prevent any harmful side effects.

Drugs Known to Be Harmful to an Unborn Baby

  • Vaccines for rubella and chickenpox — infection in the placenta
  • Chloramphenicol — antibiotic causing Gray baby syndrome and the breakdown of red blood cells
  • Kanamycin and Streptomycin — antibiotics causing ear damage and deafness
  • Sulfonamides — antibiotic causing jaundice and possible brain damage
  • Trimethadione — anticonvulsant causing an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects, such as a cleft palette and heart defects
  • Bulsulfan — a chemotherapy drug causing abnormal development of the skull and lower jaw, and spinal defects
  • Lithium — mood stabilizing drug causing heart defects and reduced muscle tone, among other defects
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs — in large doses may cause jaundice, brain damage, reduction in amount of fluid surrounding the fetus and other complications
  • Etretinate — skin treatment causing hearing defects, small ears and hydrocephalus
  • Methimazole — thyroid drug causing an underactive thyroid in the fetus

This list is not inclusive and not all drugs will have the same effects on every baby.

Was Your Baby Harmed by Prescription Drug Use?

Sometimes taking prescription drugs is necessary for the health of the woman during pregnancy. Before prescribing these drugs, a healthcare practitioner should weigh the benefit of the drug against the risk of harm to the fetus. Many medications have known side effects to a fetus that your doctor should be aware of. Talk to your physician, or another trusted health care provider if you think your physician is at fault, to determine whether your baby's birth defects could be related to prescription medications you took during pregnancy.

The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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