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Hospital Settles $36M Suit Over Botched Water Birth

medical-malpracticeLegacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Oregon has settled a lawsuit over a botched water birth out of court. Lawyers for the plaintiffs announced the settlement of the Multnomah County Circuit Court case earlier this month while refusing to disclose the confidential terms of the settlement.

Plaintiffs Marino and Benton alleged that their son was deprived of oxygen during his 2011 water birth and as a result suffered a brain injury. They claim that the baby should have been born by Cesarean section and that the hospital did not warn about the risks of a water birth. Rather, the hospital promoted it as “a serene, home-like experience with the added peace of mind that skilled physicians and board-certified nurse midwives are just a few steps away.” The now 4-year-old boy has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and other disabilities.

Water birth risks

A water birth takes place in a tub of warm water. The mother can either sit in the water during the early phase of labor and then deliver on a dry space or actually deliver the baby under water. The theory is that a water birth is less stressful for a baby because he has spent nine months in an amniotic sac and it is less of a shock to be delivered into a similar environment.

Water births are believed to result in a more comfortable birth process for the mother; sitting in warm water can to lower stress, and high blood pressure that can accompany it; improve circulation, which leads to better oxygen flow in the uterus; and soothe the mother’s body, which is more buoyant in the water. But despite this, there is questionable data showing that water births improve the health or welfare of the baby, and in some cases, may cause serious risk of injury.

Advocates urge that water births are safe because babies have a “diving reflex” that prevents them from breathing in water. But babies under stress are in danger when born into water; if the umbilical cord is twisted so that they baby is not receiving enough oxygen through it, he may gasp for air and inhale water and any bacteria in it.

A March 2014 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained that there is a small but serious risk that a newborn can drown, suffer oxygen deprivation, or become infected by feces-contaminated water, leading to injury or death. They called for shut-down of water births unless performed as part of a clinical trial with informed patient consent

Many hospitals abandon water births

The plaintiffs’ malpractice lawsuit also request that Legacy be banned from performing any further water births at any of its five Oregon hospitals unless they take place in the course of a clinical trial. There is no report on whether any such agreement was a part of the confidential settlement terms but after the 2014 report, hospitals across the country voluntarily put a stop to water births.

  1. Portland Business Journal, Legacy settles ‘water births’ lawsuit with Portland parents,

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, Immersion in Water During Labor and Delivery,

  3., ‘Water births’ may not be safe for baby, doctors warn,

  4. Star Tribune, April 24: Allina halts all water births, upsetting expectant moms,