Birth injuries are estimated to affect only a few in every thousand babies born in the United States. The types of injuries vary enormously and can occur before, during and at the time of birth. Some birth injuries can be minor and cause little or no lasting damage to the child’s health and wellbeing or only require a short period of rehabilitation. Other injuries, such as those involving brain trauma or suffocation, can cause permanent and serious disability or death.
An important distinction is between birth injury and birth defect: a defect is something that the child would have been born with regardless of the delivery, which may be naturally occurring, or as a result of something that happened during the pregnancy.
Birth injury is something that may have been avoided if the circumstances had been different. It is these types of injuries that may entitle the individual to compensation, depending on the circumstances of the case.
The causes of injury to mother and child are numerous: prolonged labor can cause a number of injuries; large babies that weigh more than 8lb and 4 ounces can cause injury to themselves and to their mother; cephalopelvic disproportion, in which the mother’s pelvis is not adequately proportioned for the child to be born naturally through the vagina. In addition, premature babies (born before 37 weeks) are by their nature more fragile and weaker and can more easily be injured; babies can also be asphyxiated during birth and this can have a variety of effects from minor injury to death.
Birth injuries can be superficial or internal. For example, a baby can be born with bruising caused by the use of forceps during the birth; or during a breech birth the baby can fracture its collarbone or clavicle. Some other injuries can have devastating and irreversible effects on the child’s life, for example paralysis, brain damage and cerebral palsy. Injury, and sometimes death, can also be caused after the birth of the child. It is important to stress that not all of these are caused by the negligence of doctors or healthcare professionals during the child’s birth but in the most serious cases, courts have awarded plaintiffs many millions of dollars for the injury caused by medical malpractice.
If you suspect that your baby is injured you should seek immediate medical assistance. Treatment and diagnosis early on may help to limit the effects of the injury. You will also need a copy of your baby’s medical records to date and your own obstetrician’s record relating to the pregnancy. A personal injury attorney can advise you on this.