Newborns are vulnerable to all kinds of accidents and injuries that may occur during or shortly after childbirth. Babies can end up with permanent damage from birth injuries that range from mild to debilitating. Those that are lucky will recover and not suffer any lasting consequences. Birth injuries can include cerebral palsy, nerve damage, and even brain damage.
Birth injury causes can vary. Sometimes they are caused by unforeseen complications, but in other instances there is a definite cause and a person to blame. Causes may include a failure of a doctor to perform a Cesarean section, use of instruments like forceps, illness in the mother, or a condition in the baby at the time of birth that goes undiagnosed and untreated. In many instances, the cause of the birth injury is negligence and parents can sue for damages.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common consequences of birth injury and it is most commonly caused by asphyxia during childbirth. This means that the baby is somehow deprived of oxygen for a period of time, or the blood flowing to the baby is low in oxygen. This can be caused by a complication during delivery, such as blood being cut off from the umbilical cord or a problem with the placenta.
Loss of oxygen or limited oxygen to the brain of a newborn causes brain cells to die and this leads to brain damage. The brain damage may be severe enough to cause cerebral palsy, which can lead to associated disorders of CP, including cognitive impairments, vision and hearing problems, delayed speech, and learning disabilities. In many cases, the asphyxia that causes cerebral palsy was preventable and may be attributed to medical malpractice.
Brain damage is not only caused by asphyxia and does not only lead to cerebral palsy. A baby may be born with brain damage that is caused by a skull fracture, infection in the mother, preeclampsia in the mother, or conditions in the baby that are left untreated, like jaundice. Asphyxia is the most common cause of all types of brain damage in newborns, but these other causes may also result in serious brain damage.
Erb’s Palsy and Brachial Plexus Injury
Injury to nerves is another common kind of birth injury. The brachial plexus nerves, which run from the spinal cord to the shoulder and arm, control movement in the arms and provide sensation in the arms as well. If these nerves are damaged during delivery the result may be Erb’s palsy or a similar type of palsy that causes weakness, loss of sensation, and even paralysis in the arm or part of the arm.
The main underlying cause of this kind of birth injury is overstretching of the baby’s arm, shoulder, neck, or head. The nerves run down the neck to the arm, so if a doctor or midwife pulls on a baby’s arm while its head is still in the birth canal, this can stretch and damage the nerves. Babies that are unusually large, in the breech position, or born during a long and difficult labor are at the greatest risk for this type of injury.
Other Nerve Injuries
The brachial plexus is the set of nerves most commonly injured in a baby during birth, but others can be damaged as well. The next most likely types of nerves to be damaged are the cranial nerves. These are the nerves that start at the brain instead of the spinal cord. These nerves are most likely to be damaged by the use of forceps or pressure applied as the baby comes through the birth canal. The result of damage to the cranial nerves may be facial paralysis or loss of sensation and asymmetrical movements in the face.
Labor and delivery put tremendous pressure on the head of a newborn. A baby’s skull is flexible and not fully formed at birth so that it can squeeze through the birth canal. However, the delicate skull is still vulnerable to injury and may become fractured during birth. This can result in emergency trauma, or may be minor and not even detected immediately.
Birth injury causes for skull fractures are most commonly connected to the use of instruments. Especially during a difficult labor, a doctor may use a vacuum extractor or forceps to help deliver the baby. These instruments, used with too much force, can physically damage or fracture the skull. It is also possible that a skull fracture will simply be the result of pressure put on the baby’s head by the mother’s pelvis and birth canal.
The most tragic of all birth injuries are those that lead to the death of an infant. There are many potential causes of this type of death. Severe asphyxia is difficult to reverse and an infant may not be able to be revived in some cases. Death can also be caused by serious damage caused to the skull and brain by the use of instruments like forceps. Untreated jaundice, preeclampsia that turns into eclampsia, and other illnesses can also lead to infant death.
When the death of an infant is found to have been preventable, if the caregiver made an error in judgment, or failed to take necessary action, the death may be ruled to have been caused by medical malpractice. Parents in these cases must face both the tragic loss of a child and the fact that someone’s error caused it. Many parents choose to file a lawsuit and to seek compensation for justice in the name of their child and money to cover the associated costs.
There are many possible infant birth injury causes, in spite of advances in modern medicine. Delivering a baby is still a dangerous thing to do, and whether negligence is involved in a birth injury or not, it is a tragic situation. Knowing what the possible causes of birth injuries are can help parents to take all appropriate steps and care leading up to the birth of a child to prevent them.