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Birth injuries vary in severity and symptoms and require different treatments. Birth injury treatments range from innovative hypothermic therapy to surgery to repair damaged nerves to lifelong medications or assistive care. Most importantly, a child with a birth injury needs a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
Types of Birth Injury
Birth injury treatment depends on the type and 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.
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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 relatively 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. Mild nerve injuries heal with time and either no treatment or minimal care. 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 require surgery. A fracture may be minor and heal on its own, but sometimes a skull fracture causes hemorrhage or hematoma, bleeding on the brain, which can be dangerous.
In these cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to drain the blood or other fluids that put harmful pressure on the brain.
Physical therapy can help treat various birth injuries, 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 and 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 efficiently and reduce pain.
Occupational and Other Therapies
In addition to physical therapy, many other types of therapy 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 with activities of daily living.
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 and interventions help children with developmental delays or cognitive impairments catch up with their peers.
A variety of medications 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. They can help manage and reduce 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. 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 specific muscles. This gives injured, weaker muscles time to develop and strengthen.
Hypothermia is an innovative treatment that doctors now use to treat children born with brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation. Research shows it can effectively reverse the harm caused by this type of birth injury.
Hypothermic treatment involves cooling a baby to about 92 degrees for a period of about three days. The baby is given a sedative to prevent shivering.
If the treatment is administered right after birth, this treatment may 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 death rates and developmental disabilities in newborns that suffered oxygen deprivation during childbirth.
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. 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 an excellent supplement to other types of emotional and behavioral therapies and treatments.
If you have a child born with a birth injury, treatment decisions will be necessary from the moment of birth onward. Early diagnosis for your child’s injury can result in an early start of treatment. Early interventions are crucial for helping children get the most benefit from surgery, medications, therapies, and emotional, behavioral, and educational interventions.
- Birth injuries. (n.d.). Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Retrieved from: https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/birth-injuries
- Brachial Plexus Birth Injury. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland.
Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/brachial-plexus-birth-injury
- Erb's Palsy (Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy) OrthoInfoAAOS. (n.d.).
Retrieved from: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/erbs-palsy-brachial-plexus-birth-palsy
- Benefits of Hypothermia for Infants Continue Through Early Childhood. (2015, August 31). National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Retrieved from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/benefits-hypothermia-infants-continue-through-early-childhood
- Bell KL and Samson-Fang L. (n.d.). Nutritional Management of Children with Cerebral Palsy. - PubMed - NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24301003