There are many different types of birth injuries that babies may suffer from as a result of trauma or damage caused during labor and delivery. These various injuries may also differ based on severity and symptoms. Because of all these factors that are involved, birth injury treatment is varied and may range from innovative hypothermic treatment to surgery to repair damaged nerves to lifelong medications or assistive care.
The most important thing for parents of a child with a birth injury to consider is getting the right treatment as soon as possible. Some treatments may reverse or correct damage, and the chances of treatments being successful may depend on how soon they are given. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as possible after birth is crucial for a child’s positive prognosis.
Types of Birth Injury
How a birth injury is treated depends on the type and the severity, as well as other individual factors. One of the most common types of birth injury is brain damage, most often caused by asphyxia or oxygen deprivation. The most common consequence of brain damage during birth is cerebral palsy. Nerve damage is also fairly common, especially damage to the brachial plexus, the nerves that run along the neck and control the arm. Bone fractures, including skull fractures can also occur during birth when too much force is applied to a baby’s fragile bones.
Surgical Birth Injury Treatment
Surgery is an option for treatment for some types of birth injury, including severe nerve damage and skull fractures. Nerve damage to the brachial plexus is fairly common and is caused by stretching between the shoulder and head as the baby emerges from the birth canal. For most babies the damage is mild and any injuries recover with time and minimal or no treatment. For those with more severe damage, including torn nerves, surgery may be used to attempt to repair the nerves.
A skull fracture is another type of birth injury that may be treated with surgery. A fracture may be small and heal on its own, but sometimes a skull fracture causes a hemorrhage or hematoma, bleeding on the brain, which can be dangerous. In these cases surgery may need to be done to drain the blood or other fluids that put harmful pressure on the brain.
Physical therapy can help treat a variety of birth injuries, but especially Erb’s palsy and cerebral palsy. Erb’s palsy is the result of damage to the brachial plexus nerves. When severe enough, this damage can lead to weakness, loss of sensation, or even paralysis in the arm. Physical therapy can help a baby develop muscle strength, range of motion, and reduce pain or regain sensation.
For children born with cerebral palsy from brain damage caused by a birth injury, physical therapy is often an important part of treatment. Cerebral palsy affects the muscles and how they move. Working with a physical therapist helps a child with cerebral palsy develop strength, better balance, flexibility, and coordination. It can also help a child walk more easily and reduce pain.
Occupational and Other Therapies
In addition to physical therapy, there are many other types of therapy that can help children with birth injuries. Occupational therapy helps a child learn how to do basic tasks that are easy for those of us without disabilities: brushing teeth and hair, using the bathroom, getting on and off the school bus, and more. In short, occupational therapists help disabled children live day by day doing the normal things that everyone else does.
Other kinds of therapies can help in different ways. Some children born with brain damage will have behavioral or emotional challenges. For these children, cognitive behavioral therapy can help them learn to control their impulses, manage their emotions, and socialize with other children. Educational therapies can help children with developmental delays or cognitive impairments catch up with their peers.
A variety of medications are available to help treat symptoms that result from different types of birth injuries. None of these are curative treatments and most don’t get at the root of the birth injury, but they are helpful in managing and reducing symptoms. For instance, pain killers help children with cerebral palsy who suffer from painful muscle spasms and tight muscles. Muscle relaxants and anti-spastic medications can also help these children control their movements and have less pain.
Children born with brain damage are likely to experience seizures. These may last for the rest of their lives and can be uncomfortable and disruptive. For many children, anti-seizure medications help reduce the frequency and severity of these episodes. Botox is another medication that can be used for children with cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy. It is injected strategically to paralyze certain muscles. This gives injured, weaker muscles time to develop and strengthen.
An innovative new treatment that is being used to treat children born with brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation is proving to be effective at reversing the harm caused by this type of birth injury. It involves cooling a baby to about 92 degrees for a period of about three days. The baby is given a sedative to prevent shivering.
The effect, if the treatment is administered right after birth, can be to completely reverse the effects of oxygen deprivation. A baby that may have suffered significant brain damage and cognitive impairments because of asphyxia may be completely spared from those effects. Studies have shown that this hypothermic treatment significantly reduces the rates of death and developmental disabilities in newborns that suffered oxygen deprivation during childbirth. To some parents it seems like a miracle cure.
In addition to standard birth injury treatments, babies and children may also benefit from a variety of alternative and supplemental treatments. Acupuncture and acupressure, for example, may help reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. Massage therapy can help with muscle pain and can also increase mobility. Nutrition therapy and exercise or recreational therapy can also help a child with cerebral palsy or behavioral challenges. Alternative therapies like animal, music, or art therapy can be a good supplement to other types of emotional and behavioral therapies and treatments.
If you have a child that was born with a birth injury, treatment decisions will be important from the moment of birth onward. The earlier you get a diagnosis for your child’s injury and can begin treatments, the better the odds of success will be. Early interventions are crucial for helping children get the most benefit out of surgery, medications, therapies, and emotional, behavioral, and educational interventions, no matter what the type of birth injury is.