During the nine months of pregnancy, expectant mothers and fathers are filled with anticipation and excitement. They are busy picking out names and dreaming about the day they will get to hold their new baby—never thinking that the day they welcome their tiny bundle of joy into the world would be marked by trauma. Sadly, traumatic birth injuries do occur as a result of medical malpractice.
Because expectant mothers are usually busy during those nine months as they get the nursery ready, read up on parenting tips, and go to doctor’s appointments, they rarely spend time researching birth injuries. In fact, the thought doesn’t even cross most mothers’ minds, which is normal. For this reason, we have put together detailed information about types of birth injuries, causes of birth injuries, treatments, and useful information about pursuing medical malpractice claims so that parents who have just learned of their child’s birth injury will have the best information possible at their fingertips.
Types of Birth Injuries
- Brain injury. Infant brain damage can occur due to a lack of oxygen during childbirth. This can be due to a nurse or doctor failing to intervene fast enough when the infant is stuck in the birth canal. Also, if doctors allow a labor to go on too long or if there is excessive pulling during delivery, a baby can suffer brain damage. There are many other causes of infant brain damage, such as untreated jaundice and umbilical cord issues; however, the end result is that the infant is deprived of adequate oxygen during birth.
- Cephalhematoma. This type of birth injury generally occurs during a prolonged labor or when a doctor uses a vacuum extractor or forceps incorrectly to assist during delivery. As a result, the baby can experience a collection of blood underneath the skin between the skull and membrane. Babies born with cephalhematoma are at an increased risk for suffering from a skull fracture, head trauma, and developmental delays.
- Cerebral palsy. When a doctor uses excessive force to deliver a baby and a child suffers head trauma, or an obstetrician fails to perform a caesarean section in time and the baby suffers a lack of oxygen, cerebral palsy may be the result. This type of birth injury causes spasticity, seizures, vision and hearing difficulties, learning disabilities, speech issues, breathing and swallowing problems, and a number of neurological disorders that affect a child’s muscle coordination and body movement—ultimately affecting the way a child walks and talks. Sadly, this disorder has a lifelong impact on the injured child and family.
- Erb’s palsy. Also known as brachial plexus injury, this can occur when an obstetrician uses too much force on the shoulder of the baby when trying to get the infant out of the birth canal. The baby can suffer an injury to the brachial plexus nerve network near the neck—causing weakness or paralysis in the arm and shoulder.
- Klumpke’s palsy. When a difficult vaginal delivery occurs, a doctor might pull the baby from the birth canal by an extended arm. This maneuver can cause an injury to the baby’s hand and forearm—producing a “claw hand” or partial paralysis in the injured hand.
- Seizure disorder. If a newborn has a seizure right after birth, it could indicate that a brain injury occurred during delivery from a lack of oxygen. Seizures can be marked by a slow jerk of one part of the body or a rapid twitching or jerking movement of the entire body. Many babies who suffer from seizures also suffer from cerebral palsy.
- Paralysis. When a doctor uses forceps or a vacuum extractor in the wrong way and too much force is put on the baby’s spinal cord, it is possible the infant will suffer spinal cord damage and paralysis. Also, a birth injury that causes brain damage and cerebral palsy can sometimes case paralysis.
- Wrongful death. What was supposed to be the most joyous day can sometimes turn into the most tragic day when something goes wrong and a baby dies at birth or shortly after. When medical mistakes and negligence are the cause of an infant’s death, it is considered wrongful death and the hospital and negligent healthcare professionals need to be held accountable.
Causes of Birth Injuries
- Delayed caesarean section (C-section). When an obstetrician isn’t monitoring the mother and baby closely and misses warning signs, a necessary C-section may get delayed. If a doctor fails to perform a timely C-section, a baby can suffer from cerebral palsy, brain damage, and even death.
- Misuse of labor and delivery tools. Some doctors still use forceps and vacuum extractors to assist with difficult labors. Forceps are a medical device that a doctor may use to help guide the infant’s head out of the birth canal. A vacuum extractor is a suctioning cup that is placed on the baby’s head and allows a doctor to help pull the baby out of the birth canal. When these tools are used incorrectly or with too much force, the baby can suffer a wide range of serious birth injuries.
- Shoulder dystocia. When an infant’s shoulder or shoulders get stuck on the mother’s pelvis during delivery and the doctor doesn’t recognize it and makes an error, shoulder dystocia can occur. There are many injuries caused by shoulder dystocia deliveries, such a broken arm, broken clavicle, or nerve injury. Often, a baby will suffer from a brachial plexus injury, such as Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy as a result of a shoulder dystocia delivery.
- Failure to diagnose and treat gestational diabetes. If a mother’s gestational diabetes isn’t diagnosed and treated during pregnancy, the high blood glucose levels can put the baby at risk of low blood sugar levels, calcium deficiencies, jaundice, incomplete lung development, obesity, and stillbirth. Also, many babies are abnormally large for their gestational age, which puts them at an increased risk for suffering injuries due to improper use of birthing tools.
- Improperly managed preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious condition to have during pregnancy, as it causes insufficient blood flow to the baby. When an obstetrician doesn’t monitor and manage a mother’s blood pressure properly, a baby can suffer from poor fetal growth, placental abruption, brain damage, and lifelong problems.
- Untreated maternal infections. There are many maternal infections that can be passed onto babies during pregnancy and delivery. This is why doctors are supposed to screen for them during pregnancy. Some of these infections that can harm a child include group B strep, rubella, and syphilis. When doctors fail to handle the situation correctly, babies can suffer birth defects, brain injuries, and even death.
- Misuse of Pitocin. Pitocin is a labor-inducing drug. When it is administered incorrectly, it can have devastating effects for the baby. Some of the risks of overuse of Pitocin include failure to detect fetal distress and failure to perform an emergency C-section, which can often lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy.
- Failure to respond to fetal distress. Because the birthing process can take a long time, nurses and doctors are supposed to constantly monitor the baby’s heartbeat and oxygen levels. If they fail to recognize the signs of fetal distress, a baby can suffer from lack of oxygen, which can cause a brain injury, cerebral palsy, paralysis, and even death.
Although there are many causes of birth injuries, the common cause is medical negligence. When doctors or nurses fail to monitor mothers and babies properly, infants can suffer from a wide range of minor to serious birth injuries.
Available Treatments for Birth Injuries
When birth injuries occur, serious injuries are often noticeable at the time of birth; however, it can take time for doctors, nurses, and parents to recognize that something isn’t right. Once a birth injury is detected, it is important that treatment occurs immediately. Because birth injuries can range in severity, the type of treatment will depend on specific birth injury. For example:
- In mild birth injury cases, physical therapy can help injured infants make full recoveries. Physical therapy is often used to treat brachial plexus injuries and weakened muscles; however, physical therapists also work with infants who suffer from cerebral palsy and other serious disorders.
- In more serious cases, surgery may be the most effective method to correct a birth injury. Although no parent wants to have their young child undergo surgery, sometimes surgery is the only type of treatment that may help correct the problem. This is often the case when a skull fracture or bleeding in the brain occurs.
- In severe birth injury cases, children may have to live with permanent disabilities or deformities. Although physical therapy and surgery may help in some situations, other birth injuries can be so severe that they cause lifelong complications, such as paralysis and cerebral palsy.
The Importance of Support After a Birth Injury
- Family support. It is essential to rely on family and friends during this difficult time. Relatives and others in your life may want to cook a meal for you, pray for you, or help out in any way they can. It is best after a situation like a birth injury to let your family help you and be there for you.
- Mental health support. Because you suffered emotionally as a result of the trauma that occurred to your child at birth, it is critical to talk with a counselor about your thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma your family endured.
- Legal support. You may or may not know if you want to pursue a birth injury claim. Most injury lawyers provide free consultations, so it is in your best interest to get some legal advice. Also, because birth injury cases can be overwhelming, they require an experienced legal team to hold doctors and hospitals accountable.
Because we believe no child should ever have to suffer as a result of a medical error, we are passionate about advocating for injured children and their parents. If you are looking to get some questions answered or are ready to hold the doctor or hospital liable, one of our experienced birth injury lawyers would be honored to talk with you and help you. Please reach out to us at (703) 591-0067 for a free consultation today.