Birth injuries are physical trauma or medical complications a baby suffers during or immediately after delivery. Many birth injuries occur due to negligent errors or reckless acts by a doctor, midwife, or other healthcare provider attending a baby’s birth. A baby’s vulnerability during delivery means they have higher risks of suffering certain kinds of birth injuries, such as brachial plexus injury, facial paralysis, caput succedaneum, or oxygen deprivation.
A brachial plexus injury occurs when a baby suffers damage to the brachial plexus, the bundle of nerves that runs from the upper spine through the neck and shoulders into the arms. Brachial plexus injuries most frequently occur due to shoulder dystocia, in which the baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone. However, brachial plexus injuries can also occur due to improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors or when an infant has a breech birth.
Brachial plexus injuries cause weakness, numbness, and paralysis of the arms and hands. Common signs of an injury include limpness in the arms, low grip strength, or holding the arm in a guarded position close to the body. Mild brachial plexus injuries caused by stretching of the nerves may resolve independently over time or through physical therapy. More severe injuries may require surgical repair and can cause permanent paralysis.
Caput succedaneum involves a swelling of the scalp or portions of the scalp, usually due to pressure on the head from the birth canal or delivery-assisting tools like forceps and vacuum extractors. Caput succedaneum usually heals on its own without causing complications for a baby, although in some cases, a baby may develop potentially life-threatening jaundice.
A cephalohematoma refers to a build-up or pooling of blood underneath the scalp. Cephalohematomas can form when the baby’s head gets stuck in the birth canal or due to improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors. A cephalohematoma will usually break down in a few days to a few weeks with no ill effects for the baby. However, a cephalohematoma increases the risk that a baby will develop jaundice, which can cause brain damage in some instances.
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that adversely affect muscle tone, posture, and motor function. These ailments are caused by brain damage that occurs during pregnancy or delivery, usually due to a loss of oxygen or blood flow to the brain. Symptoms of cerebral palsy begin during infancy or the toddler years and include impaired movement, exaggerated reflexes, limp or spastic limbs or upper torso, unusual posture, involuntary movements/spasms, and unsteady gait.
Cerebral palsy most commonly causes mobility issues due to muscle weakness or stiffness that impairs strength and range of motion. While some people with cerebral palsy can walk unaided, others need to use canes, braces, or walkers. Some people who have cerebral palsy also experience intellectual disabilities. Other complications of cerebral palsy include epilepsy, blindness or vision problems, and hearing loss. Although cerebral palsy causes lifelong symptoms and does not have a cure, treatments, and rehab can enable children to lead independent, productive lives.
Facial paralysis occurs when a baby suffers damage to their facial nerves due to pressure on the face during delivery. Although facial nerve damage may happen when the baby’s head gets stuck in the birth canal, damage more frequently occurs due to improper use of delivery-assisting tools such as forceps and vacuum extractors. Facial paralysis usually affects one side of the face, causing drooping of the affected side’s eyelid, cheek, and mouth. Depending on the severity of the nerve damage, facial paralysis may resolve independently in a few weeks to a few months after birth. However, some cases of nerve damage can cause permanent or recurring facial paralysis.
Shoulder dystocia, improper positioning through the birth canal, or improper assisting of delivery can cause a baby’s collarbone to break. Treatment of a fractured collarbone usually involves immobilizing the baby’s arm and shoulder to allow the set bone to heal. However, more severe breaks may require surgical repair.
Hemorrhage occurs when a baby suffers uncontrolled internal bleeding. Hemorrhage can occur when a baby’s internal organs are damaged during delivery. However, hemorrhage more frequently occurs in the head. Bleeding in or around the brain may result in a subarachnoid or intracranial hemorrhage, which can cause permanent brain damage or cause a baby to fall into a coma or vegetative state. A baby may also suffer a subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding from a broken blood vessel in the eye. These hemorrhages usually occur due to pressure put on the head from forceps or vacuum extractors.
Oxygen deprivation during pregnancy or delivery can cause permanent brain damage that may result in various medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or coma/vegetative state. Oxygen deprivation can also damage other organs, including the heart and lungs. Oxygen deprivation usually occurs when doctors or midwives fail to monitor the baby’s condition during delivery and don’t react quickly to signs of fetal distress.
Perinatal asphyxia occurs when a baby receives insufficient oxygen. Asphyxia may occur during pregnancy or during or immediately after delivery. For example, a mother may suffer an oxygen deficiency in her blood that she shares with her baby or a restriction in blood flow between mother and baby that prevents the baby from getting sufficient oxygen. Alternatively, a baby may suffer oxygen deprivation if it fails to begin breathing independently after delivery. Signs of perinatal asphyxia include the baby having a pale complexion, labored breathing, or unconsciousness.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries during delivery most frequently occur from improper use of forceps. When a doctor or midwife pulls with too much force or uses a twisting motion with forceps, they may stretch, shear, or sever the cervical spinal cord in the neck, potentially causing life-threatening quadriplegia.
Contact a Birth Injury Lawyer Today
After your child has suffered a birth injury due to the negligence of doctors, nurses, midwives, or other healthcare providers, get experienced legal help to pursue financial recovery and justice. Contact Finz & Finz, P.C. today at (855) TOP-FIRM for a free, no-obligation consultation. You can speak with a birth injury lawyer about your family’s legal options. Let our seasoned legal team advocate for your family’s rights so you can demand accountability for your child’s harm and loss.