Keeping Newborns Safe by Preventing Falls
Expecting parents and healthcare providers focus so much attention on pregnancy and delivery of their babies that it is easy to overlook how important it is to make sure that measures are in place to keep newborns safe during their first hours of life.
One peril is newborn falls, when a caretaker – parent or health care professional – unintentionally drops a newborn. A recent study by Elizabeth Kuklielka and Susan C. Wallace, published in the December 2019 issue of Patient Safety, analyzed instances of newborn falls in Pennsylvania and reviewed prevention strategies.
Newborn Falls: Scenario
A mother delivers her child in the hospital. A bassinet is set up in her hospital room right near her bed, so she can nurse her baby as needed. Thrilled, she is determined to be a great mother, but she is also physically uncomfortable and tired from the labor and delivery.
The baby is hungry, and the mother carefully gets up from her bed to retrieve the baby and breastfeed. As she takes the baby back to her bed so she can sit down, she loses her balance and the baby slips out of her arms.
The nurse arrives and takes the baby to the NICU. The mother is left behind, feeling guilty and blaming herself for harming her baby.
The nurse returns with the baby, who has not suffered any permanent injury. There is no conversation about what happened, and no one from the hospital staff attempts to comfort the mother. In fact, there is no discussion at all. She cannot sleep all night worrying about what she has done.
Newborn Falls: Causes
Kukielka and Wallace gathered data from 318 newborn falls that occurred in the first 72 hours after being born. They found that most falls occurred between 4 am and 5 am. They were also able to determine the circumstances that most often lead to this event:
- A caregiver falls asleep, often while breastfeeding
- A caregiver loses consciousness
- A caregiver drops the newborn while in motion
- A newborn rolls off a raised surface
- A hurried delivery that leads to a fall immediately after birth
Newborn Falls: Aftermath
Thankfully, a fall does not always result in lasting harm to the baby. Sometimes, it results in little more than some additional testing and a slightly longer hospital stay. In other cases, however, fractures (of the skull or other bones) can occur. In fact, in the data from Kukielka and Wallace, 25 of the 33 events that were deemed serious involved newborn fractures.
Unfortunately, sometimes even more serious injuries occur, significant brain bleeds that can cause permanent brain injury.
Caregivers can also suffer from significant distress after a newborn fall. If the caregiver who drops a newborn is the mother, the guilt and worry can cause significant emotional distress. Even if the mother is not involved in the fall, she may witness such a fall, which can itself be traumatic.
In a recent Ohio case handled by The Eisen Law Firm, a premature baby slipped from the arms of nurse after delivery and fell to the floor. The baby remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for almost four months with several complications. While it was not entirely certain whether the baby’s problems were the result of being premature or being dropped, one thing was perfectly clear: the parents suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of what happened. (The Eisen Law Firm was able to successfully handle this birth injury case and reach a settlement for the baby and for the parents. These settlements will ensure the baby receives all the care he needs for the rest of his life.)
Newborn Falls: Prevention
Understanding what causes newborn falls provides an opportunity to develop strategies to prevent them. Kukielka and Wallace consulted with Susan Dixon, RN who was part of a team that implemented several changes at Pen Highlands Elk (a multiple-hospital healthcare system in Pennsylvania) in order to reduce the likelihood of a newborn fall.
What is most impressive about the strategies that have been employed is that the healthcare system recognizes its responsibility and its power to ensure newborn safety. The action plan adopted by the system focuses on educating parents and providing support to them and includes the following elements:
- Patient Education: New parents receive information about safe sleep and discourages co-sleeping.
- Emphasis on Rest: If parents feel tired, they are encouraged to let the nurses watch their newborn in the nursery. Health care providers also recommend that parents rest for a few hours during the day.
- More Attention from Nurses: Nurses check on patients every 15 minutes when moms were breastfeeding (prior to this, only hourly checks were required).
- Staff Education: Increased training to address prevention of newborn falls, including how to lock hospital beds in the lowest position when possible.
- Focus on Being Proactive: Health care professionals are encouraged to act if they see something that is unsafe and to intervene when necessary to avoid patient harm.
These remedies are straightforward, specific, and focused on putting the newborn AND their parents first. As it should be.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the way it is. Too often hospitals do not have good policies and procedures in place to minimize newborn falls and drops. And too often, serious injuries result. If you or a loved one is concerned about something that happened at a labor and delivery department of a hospital, The Eisen Law Firm can help. Call our experienced Cleveland malpractice lawyers to discuss your options for legal recourse and for obtaining the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-287-0900 or contact us online today.