Among babies that are born full-term in the U.S., three in 1,000 will suffer from some degree of brain damage. Being deprived of oxygen during birth, known as asphyxiation, is a leading cause of infant brain damage, although there are many other possible causes as well. Brain damage is a serious health concern, and even when it is mild, it can lead to lifelong consequences for the child and parents.
A child born with brain damage may show a number of symptoms, most of which are related to delayed development or behavioral and cognitive challenges. Treatments and interventions can help, but they need to be used early to help a child recover.
Even with quick treatment most of these children will be living with the consequences of early brain damage for the rest of their lives. If your child is facing this you may be able to show that someone was to blame and you could be eligible for compensation for your child.
Asphyxiation During Birth
About half of all brain damage causes in infants are from asphyxiation, or deprivation of oxygen, during delivery and birth. Babies born prematurely are at a greater risk of being deprived of oxygen. The brain needs oxygen and when it is deprived of it, even for a short period of time, the result can be brain damage.
Asphyxia may be the result of several factors. It can be caused by the mother having too little oxygen in her blood, by the placenta separating early, or by complications with the umbilical cord during birth. Asphyxiation may also occur because of infections in the baby or the mother, a blocked airway, a malformed airway, anemia, or high or low blood pressure in the mother. The lack of oxygen can lead to damage that causes cerebral palsy, behavioral disorders, developmental disorders, or problems with vision.
When a mother has an infection it can affect her unborn child. One way in which it can affect that child is by causing brain damage. Infections like yeast infections, herpes, rubella, syphilis, cystitis, and others, especially when not properly treated, increase the risk that the baby will be born with brain damage. Infections also increase the risk of premature birth, which raises the risk of brain damage even further. Maternal infections have been linked with later conditions in the child such as cognitive difficulties, autism, cerebral palsy, and even schizophrenia.
Preeclampsia is a condition in which a woman has unusually high blood pressure as well as high levels off protein in her urine. Five to eight percent of pregnancies are affected by this condition, including brain damage in the infant. If preeclampsia develops into eclampsia, it can have devastating consequences for the newborn, including brain damage, seizure disorders, and even death.
Jaundice and Kernicterus
Severe jaundice that goes untreated can cause a type of brain damage in an infant called kernicterus. Jaundice occurs when the liver fails to remove excess bilirubin in the baby’s blood. This causes yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice. This is treatable, but if it is ignored it can cause kernicterus, which in turn may cause cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, and cognitive disabilities.
Physical damage that occurs during delivery, including pressure on the skull from the mother’s pelvis or birth canal, or from medical instruments, may cause brain damage. This physical damage results from pressure on the brain, either directly from the injury or indirectly from the resulting bleeding, fluid buildup, or swelling in the brain.
Symptoms of Brain Damage in Infants
It is crucial that brain damage in an infant is recognized as early as possible so that treatments and interventions can reverse it as much as possible. Unfortunately the signs are not always obvious. Some babies born with brain damage may have a certain appearance, such as a large forehead, a small head overall, or unusual facial features. The baby may have trouble focusing its eyes or it may have seizures. Behavioral problems may be obvious early on, including excessive crying, difficulty feeding, fussiness, and difficulty sleeping.
In too many cases, the signs of brain damage may not be apparent until later. As a baby grows into a toddler and child, it may show signs of developmental delays, which can indicate brain damage. A child may have physical symptoms too, like fatigue, sleeping difficulties, paralysis, or sensitivity to light. Problems with sensation may also signify brain damage. These could include vision and hearing problems, disorientation, or sensitivity to pain.
In cases in which brain damage is recognized early, there are some treatments that can help. For example, if a newborn experienced asphyxiation during delivery, hypothermic treatment cools the baby down for about 72 hours. This is more of a preventative strategy as it can prevent some of the brain damage that asphyxiation causes. This newer treatment has been shown to save infants’ lives and to reduce the more severe consequences of asphyxiation and brain damage.
In most cases, however, it is not apparent so soon after birth that an infant suffered from brain damage. In these instances a child will likely get various types of treatments as he or she grows, each aimed at addressing a specific complication of brain damage. For instance, educational interventions can help a child with cognitive disabilities. Physical and occupational therapy helps children with paralysis or movement disorders like cerebral palsy.
Only in the most extreme cases of severe and obvious brain damage is surgery considered a treatment option. Treatment may be needed to relieve pressure on the brain from bleeding or swelling, or even to remove a part of the skull or even the brain if it is severely damaged. Surgery may also be used to treat severe cases of seizure disorder.
For mild cases of brain damage at birth, the prognosis is positive. Fortunately most cases are mild and children will recover well with minimal or no complications. The recovery from mild brain damage is not necessarily quick, though. It could take lots of therapy and interventions to help a child recover all normal functioning.
In more serious cases of infant brain damage, the prognosis is worse. Most of these children will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Serious brain damage can lead to conditions like cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, and severe cognitive disability. Treatments and interventions are proven to help, but they cannot reverse all the damage done.
If you gave birth to a child that suffered brain damage, you may be wondering if it could have been prevented. Many cases of infant brain damage were preventable and someone made the wrong decision during labor and delivery. If you want to explore this further and see what your options are for a lawsuit, consult with an experienced lawyer.