Types of Birth Injury
A birth injury occurs when a newborn suffers physical harm before, during, or after birth. Some injuries are minor and don't cause long-term consequences. However, other birth injuries can lead to long-term or permanent effects, affecting a child's physical, emotional, and mental well-being for their entire life.
The effects of birth injuries are preventable with proper maternal and neonatal care. Medical professionals must identify risks, diagnose birth injuries, and treat any complications that arise during labor and delivery.
Unfortunately, not all births go as planned; sometimes, medical negligence gets in the way of delivering a healthy baby.
Did your child suffer a birth injury due to medical malpractice? If so, the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC could help you seek compensation from responsible parties.
Our experienced attorneys help families obtain justice for the unnecessary harm caused by negligent doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other entities.
Contact our birth injury lawyers at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation.
What is a Birth Injury?
Generally, a birth injury is a term for physical harm suffered by an infant (neonate) during or after birth.
Many infants suffer minor injuries during childbirth that usually heal on their own and cause no lasting effects.
However, some infants experience significant birth injuries that increase the risk of permanent disability and long-term health consequences.
Causes of Birth Injuries and Birth Canal Issues
A birth injury can be caused by a baby's size, the position of the baby during labor, the length and difficulty of the birth, the mother's condition, and other factors. Common causes of birth injuries include:
- Large Infants: Larger babies (with birth weights higher than 8 pounds) may be more challenging to deliver and are more likely to become wedged in the birth canal, increasing the risk of shoulder dystocia, collarbone fractures, and brachial plexus injury (damaged arm nerves), etc.
- Premature Infants: Babies born before 37 weeks of gestational age are more fragile and prone to injury.
- Cephalopelvic Disproportion: A C-section may be necessary if the mother's pelvis is not the appropriate shape or size for a vaginal delivery. C-sections carry a risk of injury for the mother and child.
- Prolonged or Difficult Labor: A prolonged labor (more than 18 hours) increases the pressure on the baby's brain and may lead to oxygen deprivation, acidosis, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), fetal distress, infection, and other injuries. On the other hand, difficult labor or childbirth could lead to serious birth injuries as the baby fails to move gently down the birth canal.
- Abnormal Presentation: The risk of birth injury is higher if the baby is not in the normal birthing position, e.g., facing forward head-first or buttocks-first.
- Maternal Health Conditions: Maternal obesity, bacterial or viral infections, structural abnormalities of the cervix and uterus, and other factors may make labor and delivery more difficult, increasing the risk of birth injuries and complications to both the mother and child.
- Assisted Delivery: Some deliveries require forceps, vacuums, and other tools to remove the infant from the womb. These tools can cause skin injuries and fractures in babies when misused.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
Many newborns experience minor injuries during birth, such as bruising, swelling, or scratches on the scalp. Usually, these injuries resolve without treatment and don't cause significant health effects.
However, some infants suffer more significant forms of birth trauma, such as:
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person's mobility, posture, and balance. It is often caused by a brain injury before, during, or after childbirth and can lead to motor and developmental delays. Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children and can have life-long effects on a child's health and well-being.
Birth-injury-related CP often results from a disruption in the blood supply during labor and delivery. Root causes include uterine rupture, detachment of the placenta, and umbilical cord blood flow issues. When these problems disrupt the blood supply to the infant, oxygen deprivation may occur, and the infant may suffer brain damage.
Brachial Plexus Injuries
The brachial plexus is a group of nerves in the shoulder that sends signals from the spinal cord to the arms and hands. Brachial palsy occurs when these nerves are damaged, usually when the baby's shoulder suffers trauma during birth (shoulder dystocia).
As a result, the baby loses the ability to move, flex, and rotate the arm. If the brachial plexus injury only caused bruising or swelling around the nerves, mobility should return within several months. On the other hand, a tear in the brachial plexus may cause permanent damage.
The most common type of infant nerve damage is Erb's palsy, wherein the infant loses motion and experiences arm weakness. Fortunately, most Erb's palsy cases resolve entirely within the first year of life.
Bruises or Lacerations
Some babies suffer facial bruises due to the trauma of passing through the birth canal and moving along the pelvis. However, some sustain bruises when the doctor uses forceps to deliver the baby. Vacuum extraction also increases the risk of bruising and may cause cuts (lacerations) on the scalp.
Caput succedaneum is swelling in a newborn's scalp. It is usually caused by the pressure on the baby's head as it moves through the birth canal during long or difficult delivery. With this injury, fluid builds underneath the soft tissues of the baby's scalp and may also come with bruising.
Caput should go away without treatment within a few hours or days. Sometimes, it can lead to hair loss and jaundice (yellow tint of the skin or eyes due to increased bilirubin).
A brain bleed or hemorrhage is a serious complication that may lead to brain injury and death if not treated promptly. There are several types of brain bleeds:
- Intracranial Hemorrhage: This type of bleeding occurs between the brain tissue and skull or within the brain tissue. It may be caused by fetal stroke resulting from damage or blockage in the blood vessels. High blood pressure, reproductive system infections, and placental issues in the mother are common risk factors for intracranial hemorrhage in infants.
- Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: This bleeding occurs in the space that surrounds the brain, usually caused by a weak area in a blood vessel bursting and leaking. Blood then accumulates around the brain and inside the skull, increasing the pressure on the brain. The excess pressure can lead to brain cell damage, increasing the risk of long-term complications and disabilities.
- Epidural Hemorrhage: This is hemorrhaging between the outer layer of the meninges (tissue covering the brain) and the skull, usually resulting from a skull fracture. If the bleeding increases the pressure in the brain, the soft spots on the baby's head (fontanelles) may bulge, and the infant may suffer apnea or seizures.
- Subdural Hemorrhage: This type of bleeding occurs between the inner and outer layers of the brain covering (subdural space). Pressure accumulates in the brain and increases the risk of complications, such as headaches, speech problems, and seizures.
- Intraventricular Hemorrhage: IVH is bleeding in a newborn's ventricles (fluid-filled areas surrounding the brain). This condition is more common in premature births.
- Intraparenchymal Hemorrhage: Also known as IPH, this type of brain bleed occurs in the brain tissues. Usually, it is caused by an underdeveloped brain rather than a birth-related injury, often occurring in preterm babies.
Newborn cephalohematoma occurs when the blood vessels in the tissue covering the skull rupture. This injury usually appears as a raised lump on the head several hours after birth. The baby will reabsorb the blood within two weeks to three months.
If the baby suffers a severe cephalohematoma, it may develop jaundice as the body breaks down red blood cells.
Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
HIE is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation or reduced blood flow in the brain. It can occur before, during, or after delivery. HIE can destroy brain cells and motor cortex tissues in severe cases, causing permanent brain damage or leading to cerebral palsy.
Most infants born with mild to moderate HIE survive and do not develop long-term complications from this brain injury. Mothers can ask their doctor for an umbilical cord blood gas analysis to determine if their child suffered from HIE and other injuries during birth.
The pressure on a baby's face during birth may damage the facial nerve. As a result, the newborn baby may display no movement on the affected side of the face or be unable to close one eye.
A baby has a higher risk of facial paralysis if their birthing presentation is abnormal and if forceps are used during delivery.
If there is only bruising on the facial nerve, paralysis should resolve within a few weeks. However, if the nerve is torn, surgery may be necessary.
The collarbone (clavicle) fracture is the most common fracture during the birthing process. The collarbone may break if there is difficulty delivering the baby's shoulder or if the baby is facing feet or buttocks-first (breech delivery). Babies delivered with broken clavicles are rarely able to move the affected limb.
Fortunately, these birth injuries heal quickly and rarely cause long-term effects on the infant.
Perinatal Asphyxia and Brain Injury
Perinatal asphyxia is a lack of blood supply or gas exchange to and from the infant during birth. Risk factors for this birth injury include placental abruption, obstruction of the umbilical cord, severe fetal infection, abnormal development of the fetus, and severe maternal bleeding or illness.
Neonates born with this birth injury display weak breathing or do not breathe at all. They need resuscitation after delivery to survive and may require additional treatments such as blood transfusions, mechanical ventilators, and IV fluids.
However, the lack of oxygen in the baby's blood can damage brain cells, increasing the risk of birth injury and long-term effects such as permanent brain damage, learning disorders, and cerebral palsy.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury caused by overstretching during birth is rare yet life-altering. If an infant suffers a spinal cord injury, paralysis can occur below the injury site, leading to loss of or altered sensations and motor function.
Damage to the spinal cord high on the neck can be life-threatening because it can prevent the baby from breathing correctly
Intrauterine fetal demise (stillborn) is the most tragic among the different types of birth injuries. This birth injury occurs when the baby dies before or during delivery.
Fetal death can occur due to genetic factors, multiple births, and maternal health conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes). It can also result from the umbilical cord prolapsing during childbirth.
How Does Medical Negligence Contribute to Traumatic Birth Injuries?
Most birth injuries are impossible to avoid. However, medical professionals can prevent significant consequences of these injuries with proper risk assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.
Unfortunately, some healthcare professionals fail to meet their duty to patients, resulting in trauma for mothers and infants. Many birth injuries result from negligence, such as:
- Failing to diagnose and treat birth injuries on time
- Forcing a baby out of the vaginal canal, risking fractures and nerve injuries
- Using forceps and other assisted delivery tools improperly
- Failing to administer an emergency C-section when necessary
- Failing to recognize umbilical cord issues and potential brain damage
- Failing to diagnose, treat, or monitor maternal health conditions
- Administering medications incorrectly
Birth Injury Prognosis
Usually, infants that suffer mild to moderate injuries during birth heal within a few weeks to a few months. Long-term consequences are rare in these cases, except for those that involve a physical injury affecting one's mobility.
Other infants may need long-term medical intervention, including:
- Physical therapy to prevent the injury from worsening
- Occupational therapy to help affected children accomplish everyday tasks
- Medications to treat pain, seizures, blood clots, and other complications
Discuss Your Child's Birth Injury with a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today
Medical professionals are legally obligated to diagnose and treat birth injuries in the timeliest and most efficient way possible. Failure to do so could lead to brain injuries, fractures, maternal bleeding, and other physical harm to the mother and child. Sometimes, these consequences are permanent or even fatal.
If your child sustained a birth injury due to someone else's negligence, you might be entitled to financial compensation.
The medical malpractice attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can help you obtain the justice your family deserves by filing a personal injury claim.
Contact our personal injury law firm at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form for a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our attorneys handle all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you only have to pay our legal fees if we win your case.