What Is a Birth Injury?
Birth injuries are physical injuries experienced during childbirth.
Birth injuries can range in severity. Minor injuries during delivery are common and do not require treatment as they can heal on their own in a matter of days or weeks. However, other birth injuries are more severe and can lead to serious complications such as lifelong disability.
Birth Injury Causes
Birth injuries usually occur for reasons out of the mother’s control. This includes things like:
- The position of the baby, such as in a breech birth
- Very large size of the baby (over 4kg)
- Very quick labor
- Very long labor
- Labor complications
- Assisted delivery using forceps or vacuum
- Small size or unusual shape of the pelvis
- Maternal obesity
- Prematurity (birth before 37 weeks)
Types of Birth Injury
Some common types of birth injuries to infants include:
- Scalp scratches - These can occur when instruments such as forceps or vacuum extractors are used during a vaginal delivery.
- Bruising or forceps marks - The trauma of passing through the birth canal or the use of forceps can leave temporary marks or bruises on a baby’s face or head.
- Brachial palsy or Erb’s palsy - This can occur when the nerve supplying the arms and hands are injured, common when there is trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder. The baby may lose the ability to flex and rotate their arm. Tearing of the nerve can cause permanent damage.
- Facial paralysis - Injury to the facial nerve, sometimes occurring when forceps are used, can lead to paralysis. It may improve on its own or require surgery in the case of a torn nerve.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage - This very common temporary injury is when the small blood vessels in a baby’s eyes are broken.
- Cephalohematoma - Often appearing several hours after birth as a raised lump on the head, this is bleeding between the skull bone and its covering. This can take between two weeks and three months to disappear completely and can cause jaundice.
- Caput succedaneum - A significant swelling of the soft tissues of the scalp, this condition is most common in babies delivered by vacuum extraction and usually goes away in a few days.
- Fractures - The most common fractures during labor are of the clavicle, which can break when delivering a baby’s shoulder or during a breech delivery.
- Perinatal asphyxia - This is a decrease in the blood flow to the baby's tissues or a decrease in oxygen in the baby's blood before, during, or after delivery.
- Cerebral palsy - This condition affects a baby’s muscle control and can often cause speech and developmental delays. It has no cure.
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) - This occurs when a child suffers from a lack of oxygen and blood flow during birth.
- Intrauterine fetal demise - Also called stillbirth, this occurs when a fetus dies before birth and occurs in 1 out of every 100 pregnancies each year in the United States.
- Spinal cord injuries - Occurring if a doctor pulls on a baby’s spine too hard during delivery, spinal cord injuries can interfere with a newborn’s sense of touch and ability to move.
Birth Injury Law
Sometimes birth injuries happen by accident. Other times, they are caused by medical negligence of healthcare professionals during delivery. For example, any of the following preventable actions can be considered medical malpractice:
- Forcefully using forceps or vacuum extractors
- Improperly medicating the mother
- Failing to diagnose serious medical conditions in the mother or baby
- Erroneously delivering a baby prematurely
If a healthcare provider fails to uphold the high standard of care expected and legally required of them, they can be held responsible for their actions in a court of law and be required to pay damages.
Do You Need Legal Advice Regarding a Birth Injury Case?
If you or a loved one have experienced a birth injury, it’s important to reach out as soon as possible to a lawyer experienced in these types of cases. This will help you learn your options for how to proceed in order to receive the compensation you deserve for your pain, suffering, and loss.