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What If My Baby Was Injured During Birth?

What is supposed to be a joy-filled event in a growing family can be marred by the tragedy of your new baby being injured. The more complicated the birth, the higher the chances of trauma to the baby. These complications could potentially result in long-term consequences for both the infant and the family.

Birth trauma or birth injury relates to damage experienced by an infant through the process of birth. Birth injuries usually occur as the infant goes through the birth canal. The unborn fetus encounters many possible problems during birth and a complicated birth only adds to more potential problems. A problematic birth increases the chances that there will be something that may go wrong and that there may be more significant damage to the fetus. A difficult birth may result from:

  • An infant weighing more than 8.5 pounds
  • An infant born premature (less than 37 weeks)
  • The fetus’s position immediately before labor and during the delivery process
  • A birth canal that is small
  • A small or incorrectly shaped pelvis on the mother (cephalopelvic disproportion)
  • A prolonged labor
  • Health complications of the mother

It is somewhat common for babies to receive some minor injury during delivery. These injuries can cause a child to swell or bruise in certain areas, but these minor injuries will not have an irreversible or permanent affect on the child.

Types of Birth Injuries and How They Might Happen

The most common birth injury involves trauma to the infant’s head and can include nerve damage, bone fractures and/or injuries to the spinal cord. These injuries may result from:

  • doctors using instruments in an effort to assist in the delivery
  • the use of certain medications
  • neglect or carelessness by the doctor or medical staff
  • the process of a complicated delivery.

Head injury is a common birth injury experienced during delivery. The infant’s head is generally the first part of the infant to enter the birth canal. Consequently, the infant’s head endures a large amount of pressure during delivery. A contusion or concussion to the infant’s head or brain can lead to damaging developmental problems and lifelong consequences for the infant and the family. Seizures, paralysis, coma or death can be a consequence of serious head injuries.

Nerve damage during delivery is not as common as head injuries but a difficult birth can put the infant at risk of nerve injury. Nerves in the arms and/or shoulders could be stressed or stretched, which can result in tears or other injuries. This could cause weakness or even paralysis of the baby’s shoulders, arms or hands. Pressure to the baby’s chest can cause damage to the nerve around the diaphragm muscle. (The diaphragm is located between the chest and abdomen, and separates the organs of these sections of the body.) Diaphragm muscle damage can cause paralysis of the diaphragm, which causes breathing problems for the baby. If the nerves are torn, the baby may have to have surgery to fix or reattach its damaged nerves. If intense pressure is applied to the baby’s face during delivery, the baby may have paralysis to the nerves of its face.

Bone injury during delivery is rare but it can happen. Broken or fractured bones in the skull or torso can create many health conditions and medical problems for the infant. Fracturing the collarbone is the most common bone injury, but breaks and fractures can also occur in the baby’s arms, shoulders, rib cage and spinal cord. Overstretching of the infant during delivery can cause a spinal cord injury that can damage or dislocate cervical or thoracic vertebrae. A spinal cord injury often results in lifelong paralysis from the point of injury on down.

Conditions That Can Result From Birth Injuries

Cephalic disorder is a congenital condition that occurs when the developing baby’s nervous system is damaged during delivery. Cephalic disorder could cause permanent damage to the nervous system, chronic disabling disorders, or death.

Erb-Duchenne and Dejerine-Klumpke Palsies can occur when the brachial plexus are injured or when that group of nerves experiences some sort of damage. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that send signals from the spine to the shoulders, arms, and hands.  Erb-Duchenne palsy or Erb’s palsy refers to paralysis of the upper brachial plexus. Dejerine-Klumpke palsy or Klumpke’s palsy refers to paralysis of the lower brachial plexus.

Spinal cord injury could result from a sudden or traumatic blow or twist to the spine, which fractures or dislocates vertebrae. Damage starts the instant the injury causes displaced disc material, bone fragments or ligaments to pierce spinal cord tissue.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Insult or Hypoxia occurs due to a decrease in oxygen going to the baby’s brain. Pressure to the infant’s neck, as well as head trauma, can create conditions that lead to hypoxia. Brain cells can begin dying within five minutes of having the oxygen supply interrupted.

Subgaleal Hematoma or Subgaleal Hemorrhage is bleeding in the space between the skull and the scalp. The majority of subgaleal hematomas occur when a vacuum is used on the baby’s head during delivery. They can also be caused by head trauma.

Facial Nerve Palsy or Seventh Cranial Nerve Palsy is the loss of the use of voluntary facial muscles and the controllable movements of the infant’s face. Facial nerve palsy is caused by pressure on the facial nerves during delivery. The most frequent form of seventh cranial nerve palsy from birth trauma involves the lower part of the facial nerves that control the muscles around the lips. This is mainly noticeable when the baby cries.

Cerebral Palsy or CP is the name for a group of nonprogressive health conditions distinguished by the loss of movement or loss of nerve functions. Cerebral palsy is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, which results in physical disabilities and in a slowdown of normal development that can cause secondary orthopedic problems. CP affects the connections between the cortex and the cerebellum, as well as other parts of the brain, which causes damage to the motor control hub of the infant’s developing brain. Children born with cerebral palsy do not always show signs of CP at birth but can later develop perception, communication, cognitive and/or behavioral difficulties as the child’s nervous system matures abnormally.

Symptoms can include the inability to follow objects with the eyes, lack of facial expression, and failure to react to abrupt noises. Other symptoms, such as slow development and delays in typical growth activities, may develop as the child grows. Some of these slowed development activities may include smiling, rolling over, crawling, walking and talking. The disorder could also result in:

  • seizures
  • vision problems
  • decreased muscle tone
  • poor coordination
  • hearing issues

These are only a few of the medical conditions that can result from a birth injury or trauma. Other medical conditions that can result from complications during childbirth include:

  • Caput succedaneum
  • Clavicle fracture
  • Long bone fracture
  • Epiphysial displacement
  • Intraperitoneal bleeding
  • Hepatic rupture
  • Sternocleidomastoid injury
  • Cephalohematoma

If your child suffered trauma during birth, the Oklahoma birth injury lawyers at Carr & Carr are here to help you through this difficult time. Please contact us online or call us at 866-510-0580 to arrange your free consultation. Our attorneys have offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but we can also travel to meet you in a more convenient location.

Free Consultation (918) 747-1000
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