The Basics of a Birth Injury Case

Birth injury or birth trauma refers to any damage suffered by an infant during the process of birth. Birth injuries commonly occur as the infant travels through the birth canal. The unborn fetus faces many hurdles during birth and a complicated birth only adds to those hurdles. A difficult birth increases the probability that something will go wrong and the greater, the danger of injury to the fetus in the process. The more complex the birth the greater the chances of birth trauma to the infant and that can have long-lasting repercussions for the infant and his/her family. A problematic birth may be a result of the size of the infant or the position of the fetus at the time of delivery.

A difficult birth could result from:

  • A large infant (over 8.5 pounds)
  • A premature infant (less than 37 weeks)
  • The position of the fetus right before labor and during delivery
  • A small birth canal
  • A small or misshapen pelvis on the mother (Cephalopelvic Disproportion)
  • A prolonged labor
  • Health complications of the mother

It is not uncommon for infants to experience some slightly minor injury during birth. These minor injuries can cause an infant to swell or bruise in certain areas but these minor injuries will not have a permanent or lasting affect on the child.

Types of Birth Injuries

The most common birth injuries involve trauma to the head of the infant and can include bone fractures, nerve damage, and/or spinal cord injuries. These injuries can result from the use of instruments to help in the delivery, the use of certain medications, neglect, or carelessness on the part of the physician or medical staff, or the process of a difficult delivery.

Head injury is one of the most common birth injuries experienced during delivery. The head is generally the first part of the infant to enter the birth canal and therefore it bears most of the pressure during delivery. A concussion or contusion to the head or brain of an infant can lead to serious developmental problems for the infant and lifelong consequences for the infant and the family. Serious head injuries can lead to seizures, paralysis, coma, or death.

Nerve damage is not as common as head injuries during delivery but a difficult birth can put the infant at risk of nerve injury to several nerves in the developing infant's body. Nerves in the arms and/or shoulders could be stretched or stressed and can result in tears or other injuries. This could result in weakness or paralysis of the affected shoulder, arm, or hand. Pressure to the infant's chest may result in damage to the nerve around the diaphragm muscle. The diaphragm is between the abdomen and the chest and separates the corresponding organs of each section. Damage to this muscle can result in paralysis of the diaphragm causing the infant difficulty in breathing. If the nerves are torn, the infant may have to undergo surgery to repair or reattach the damaged nerves. If intense pressure is applied to the face of an infant during delivery, the infant may experience paralysis to the nerves of the face.

Bone injury is rare during delivery but it can happen. Bones can be broken or fractured in the skull or torso creating various types of health conditions and medical problems for the infant. The most common is fracturing of the collarbone but breaks and fractures can also occur in the arms, shoulders, ribcage, and spinal cord. A spinal cord injury could result from overstretching of the infant during delivery that can damage or dislocate cervical or thoracic vertebrae. A spinal cord injury often causes lifelong parlays 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 fetal nervous system is damaged in the delivery process. 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 if that group of nerves experiences some sort of damage. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that conduct 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 that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. The damage begins the moment the injury causes displaced bone fragments, disc material, or ligaments to pierce spinal cord tissue.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Insult or Hypoxia occurs when there is a decrease of the oxygen supply to the brain. Pressure to the neck or head trauma can create conditions that can 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 subgaleal hematomas occur when vacuum is used on the head of an infant during the delivery process or it can result from 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 due to 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. The defect is mainly noticeable when the infant cries. 

Cerebral Palsy or CP is the name given to a group of non-progressive 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 that results in physical disabilities and in a slowdown of normal human development that can cause secondary orthopedic problems. CP affected the connections between the cortex and the cerebellum as well as other parts of the brain that causes damage to the motor control hub of the developing brain. Children born with cerebral palsy often do not show any signs of the disorder at birth but can develop cognitive, communication, perception, and/or behavioral difficulties later on in life as the child's nervous system matures. The disorder could also result in decreased muscle tone, poor coordination, vision problems, trouble hearing, and seizures. Symptoms can include lack of facial expression, failure to react to abrupt noises, or the inability to follow objects with the eyes. Other symptoms may develop as the child grows such as slow development and delays in typical growth activities.

These slowed developmental activities may include:

  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Talking
  • Smiling
  • Rolling over

These are only a few of the medical conditions that can result from a birth injury or birth trauma. Other common 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 has suffered trauma during birth, you should consider consulting a Personal Injury Attorney to represent you.

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