By Mary Ann Pekara
Children can sustain personal injuries during the birth process. Unfortunately, birth injuries can affect newborns for the rest of their lives.
These injuries can be a result of actions or inactions by doctors, midwives or other medical staff while the mother is in labor, during the delivery or in the moments afterward. They may affect a child's brain or spine, and may include untreated diseases or cause permanent birth defects.
If your child suffered an injury during birth, you may want to speak with a personal injury attorney. A lawyer can answer any questions you might have and clarify the steps you need to take to protect your child's rights today and in the future.
Babies at Risk for Birth Injuries
Birth trauma or birth injuries are a result of the birth process and are common with large babies and babies who are not in the correct position during labor and delivery.
Also premature babies are susceptible to birth injuries because they are more fragile than full-term infants. Sometimes birth injuries happen simply because the mother is allowed to labor for too long without intervention.
Women with small or unusually shaped pelvic bones can be physically unable to deliver their babies vaginally, and injuries to the infant can occur when this problem is not realized in time.
Incidence of Birth Injuries
Approximately seven out of every 1,000 live babies suffer from a birth injury that occurs during labor or delivery, and birth injuries are to blame for less than two percent of neonatal deaths or stillborn births annually in the United States, according to a report by eMedicine.com.
The number of infant deaths reported due to birth trauma has decreased dramatically since 1970 due to improvements in medical technology and the ability of doctors to now more readily recognize risk factors that could lead to birth injuries or death of an infant due to birth trauma.
Information for Parents
When an infant suffers from a birth injury due to the negligence or malpractice of a medical professional, a personal injury lawyer may help parents by clarifying what should be done to protect the legal rights of the child.
Birth injuries are not only physically traumatic to an infant, but can be emotionally traumatic to the parents and family of the child as well.
A local personal injury lawyer may help families by providing legal information and guidance so that the parents of an injured baby can focus on helping their child recover from their birth injuries while their personal injury lawyer handles the necessary legal issues.
Types of Birth Injuries
There are many types of birth trauma and birth injuries that babies suffer during labor or delivery. Some of the most common birth injuries are:
- Caput succedaneum: Severe swelling and/or bruising of the soft tissues of the newborn infant's scalp. Swelling develops while the baby moves through the birth canal. Infants born with the aid of vacuum extraction are most likely to be born with this birth injury. In most cases, the injury to the newborn is not severe and the swelling and bruising usually go away and heal within a few days with no long-term damage.
- Cephalohematoma: Often becomes evident a few hours after birth by a raised lump on the infant's head. Cephalohematoma is caused by an area of bleeding between the bone and its fibrous covering. This birth injury resolves itself within two weeks to three months after birth as the infant's body resorbs the blood. Some infants may develop jaundice as a result of this birth injury.
- Bruising, abrasions, lacerations and forceps marks: These are examples of injuries suffered as a result of a traumatic delivery or from the use of forceps or vacuum extraction. Babies may be born with bruising and abrasions on the face and/or head as a result of contact with the mother's pelvic bones or from the use of forceps during delivery. Babies born with the aid of vacuum extraction devices may suffer bruising, abrasions or lacerations on the scalp.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhages: Caused by the breakage of tiny blood vessels in the infant's eyes. This type of birth injury is characterized by one or both of the baby's eyes having a noticeable bright red band around the iris. Subconjunctival hemorrhages are a very common and do not cause permanent damage to the eyes. This condition usually resolves itself within 10 days after birth.
- Facial paralysis: Caused when the infant's cranial facial nerve is injured during labor or birth. This birth injury is caused by pressure on the baby's face or the use of forceps during delivery. Facial paralysis in a newborn is evident when the infant cries and there is no movement on the injured side of the face. Babies with this type of injury also are unable to close the eye on this side of the face. If the facial nerve was only bruised during labor and delivery, this type of birth injury may improve within a few weeks. However, if the facial nerve was torn or damaged, the infant may need surgery to correct the condition.
- Brachial palsy: Occurs when the brachial plexus is injured during delivery. The brachial plexus, the group of nerves that run to the arms and hands, is most commonly injured when there is a problem delivering the infant's shoulders during birth. Babies who suffer from brachial palsy after birth do not have the ability to flex or rotate their arms. In cases that involve only bruising and swelling of the brachial plexus nerves, the baby will regain movement of the arm within a few months. However, if the brachial plexus nerves are torn or damaged during birth, there may be permanent nerve damage. Physical therapy may be necessary as this birth injury heals.
- Bone fractures: Clavicle fractures are the most common infant fracture injuries during labor and delivery. In cases that involve a breech delivery or difficulty delivering the baby's shoulder, the clavicle may be fractured. An infant who suffered a fractured clavicle during delivery will rarely move the arm on the side of the fracture. During the healing process, new bone forms and a firm lump can often develop on the clavicle. Infants who suffer from clavicle fractures during delivery may need to be fitted with bandages or splints to restrict movement as the birth injury heals.
- Cerebral palsy: A medical condition caused by permanent brain damage that can be caused by mistakes or accidents during the birth process. This is not a life threatening condition, but there is no cure. The condition is characterized by a loss of muscle control and body movements. Cerebral palsy caused by brain injuries during birth or untreated seizures shortly after birth account for 10-15 percent of all instances of the condition.
- Spinal cord injuries: Occurs during delivery when excessive traction or rotation is applied and the spinal cord is overstretched. In breech deliveries, spinal cord injuries are generally in the lower cervical and upper thoracic region and in the midcervical region for vertex delivery. Infants who suffer from spinal cord injuries during birth often die or are plagued with permanent and lifelong medical problems as a result of the birth injury.
- Subdural Hematoma: After a traumatic birth, a child may suffer from subdural hematoma. This injury is bleeding veins in the brain from a significant blow to the head. The seriousness of the birth injury depends on the size. Smaller subdural hemtomas may not be serious as the blood in the brain may be absorbed over a few weeks. However, large subdural hematomas may lead to death. Although the bleeding may have stopped, the hematoma can continue to grow. If your child may have suffered a subdural hematoma, contact a medical professional as soon as possible, as this may be an emergency condition.
If your child suffered injuries during labor, delivery or in the moments afterward, you may want to speak with a personal injury attorney who handles birth injuries. An attorney may help protect the rights of your child.