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General anesthesia can be risky business in childbirth

There's a reason why obstetricians tend to use general anesthesia only when it's necessary. Even though its use remains safe for most people, it does come with risks, especially for a woman about to give birth. Considering the fact that one of the only reasons that you would receive general anesthesia is because you require a C-section, you might not spend much time thinking about how it will occur, but instead think only of the safety of your unborn child.

Some rare instances during a vaginal birth might require general anesthesia as well. In an emergency, your doctor will more than likely take whatever measures he or she deems necessary to save your life and the life of your child. Obstetricians prefer to use other anesthetics, such as an epidural, because of your participation in the birthing process, but when that becomes impossible, they use a general anesthetic.

What instances would require general anesthesia?

Other than if you require a C-section, any of the following events could require you to be put under general anesthesia:

  • Regional anesthetics fail to work
  • Shoulder dystocia (the baby's shoulders get stuck in the birth canal)
  • An unanticipated breech birth
  • A difficult forceps delivery
  • Delivery of a second child
  • An emergency situation arises

Your obstetrician and the anesthesiologist should take whatever measures necessary to ensure the safety of you and your unborn child.

What should be done to ensure my safety?

Have you ever wondered why you aren't allowed to eat anything once your labor starts? It's to prevent your lungs from being filled with stomach acids or other fluids if you do require general anesthesia. Other factors should also receive close consideration before its administration:

  • Review medical history (some conditions require special considerations)
  • The use of an antacid
  • The administration of oxygen prior to administering anesthesia
  • Blocking your esophagus to prevent aspiration prior to the placement of an endotracheal tube
  • The administration of medications to relax your muscles prior to the placement of an endotracheal tube

Other considerations include the following:

  • Improper placement of the endotracheal tube
  • Inability to place the endotracheal tube
  • Life-threatening reactions to anesthesia
  • Respiratory issues of the baby

Possibilities also exist that you could wake up from anesthesia or remain partially awake after you receive anesthesia. A failure to consider all of these issues could result in disastrous consequences for you and your baby.

What can I do if something goes wrong?

Should you suffer a serious injury due to the use of general anesthesia, the above considerations could provide some clue as to what went wrong. If the circumstances warrant it, a medical malpractice claim might help you receive the compensation you need to deal with the aftermath of such a tragic mistake. Proving that you received substandard care could be problematic, however.

An attorney could prove invaluable under these circumstances. Medical malpractice claims require the review, opinion and testimony of a medical expert. Your case must meet certain standards before it sees the inside of a courtroom or a seat at a negotiating table. Attempting to meet these requirements alone could jeopardize your ability to successfully obtain the financial help you need to move forward.

For more information, please see our overview birth injuries and medical malpractice.

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