According to the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University, birth injury, sometimes called birth trauma, is a physical injury that can result during delivery. Often birth injuries can be quite complicated and can require prompt action to prevent problems from becoming more severe.
Some birth injuries are temporary and heal without lasting impact, while others are permanent and have significant, long-term effects on the lives of the child and his or her parents. Some birth injuries are unavoidable medical conditions for which no one is at fault, while others result from a health-care provider's error, possibly forming the basis of a medical-malpractice lawsuit.
Birth Injury Risk Factors
The causes of birth injuries are not always easily identifiable, but the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital reports several factors that may increase the risk of birth injury, including:
- Premature babies born before 37 weeks
- Large babies that weigh more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces at birth
- Difficult labor or childbirth, called dystocia
- Prolonged labor
- Abnormal birthing presentation like breech delivery
One of the most common permanent birth injuries is cerebral palsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture caused by injury or abnormal development in an immature brain, usually before birth. Some physical manifestations of cerebral palsy are:
- Stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes, called spasticity, or stiff muscles and normal reflexes, called rigidity
- Variations in muscle tone
- Lack of muscle coordination
- Tremors or involuntary movements
Statistics from WebMD show that about 8,000 infants are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. The Mayo Clinic also reports that people with cerebral palsy often have other health concerns related to the neurological problems associated with cerebral palsy, such as:
- Reduced sight and hearing capabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Dental problems
- Urinary incontinence
- Atypical touch or pain perceptions
Although it is sometimes difficult to determine the cause of cerebral palsy, problems that may hinder brain development and result in cerebral palsy include:
- Gene mutations that affect brain development
- Maternal infections while pregnant
- Fetal stroke or disruption of the blood supply
- Insufficient oxygen delivery to the baby's brain during labor or delivery, known as fetal hypoxia or asphyxia
A related birth injury is brachial palsy, which occurs when the bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus suffers injury. According to the Mayo Clinic, this usually happens with shoulder dystocia, or difficulty delivering the baby's shoulder. The brachial plexus nerves supply the arms and hands, and brachial palsy makes a child unable to flex and rotate his or her arm on the side with the injured nerves. Frequently, the arm is also internally rotated.
Minor injuries to the brachial plexus during delivery often repair themselves within a few hours or months after birth. But, if the nerves are torn, the brachial palsy may be permanent, requiring years of physical therapy and possible corrective surgery.
Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice
Sometimes it is no one's fault that a baby is born with a permanent medical condition, like when cerebral palsy is caused by a random gene mutation. However, in some instances, the cause of a baby's birth injury can be identified as the negligence or medical malpractice of a doctor, nurse or other health-care provider during labor and delivery of the child.
Ob-gyn doctors and nurses are required to monitor the health of the mother and baby and to take appropriate measures when health risks arise. If a health-care provider fails to notice, properly assess or timely respond to a potential complication during labor or delivery and a birth injury results, the parents of the injured child may be able to make a negligence claim against that health-care provider in a medical-malpractice lawsuit.
Some examples of medical malpractice during labor and delivery include:
- Failure to order a medically-necessary cesarean section
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum
- Failure to recognize fetal distress like insufficient oxygen supply
Doctors' and nurses' mishandling of or failure to notice birth complications can result in severe injury to a baby and a lifetime of medical treatment and associated expenses for the child and his or her parents. If your child suffered a birth injury, contact a personal injury attorney with experience in medical-malpractice cases to discuss any legal claims for compensation you may have.