Birth Trauma (Head Trauma) During Labor and Delivery May Result in Newborn Intracranial Hemorrhages (Brain Bleeds) and Permanent Brain Damage

Beyond Bruising: Head Trauma During Birth Can Cause Severe ‘Brain Bleeds’

In many labor and deliveries, it’s normal for a baby to have a very small amount of bruising and swelling of the head. This is typically due to the trauma exerted as the baby passes through the birth canal. In most circumstances, the symptoms disappear on their own within a few days and do not require any medical intervention. Sometimes, however, complications can arise during labor and delivery that result in much more head trauma than a normal delivery.

This includes situations where:

  • Labor is prolonged
  • The baby is large for its gestational age (macrosomic)
  • The baby’s head does not easily fit through the pelvis (cephalopelvic disproportion)
  • The baby’s presentation is not normal (breech or face presentation)

In cases such as these, it is critical for physicians and healthcare professionals to closely monitor the baby for fetal distress and pirovide mothers with information to allow them to provide nformed consent about C-Sections if needed. If distress occurs and conventional methods are unsuccessful, an emergency C-section is required to minimize the risk of intracranial hemorrhage, and possible brain injuries.

Unfortunately, severe head trauma in newborns can also occur from medical intervention during delivery, especially when there are delivery room errors. Incorrect use of and performance of forceps deliveries and vacuum extractions are both well-documented as causes of intracranial hemorrhages and resulting brain damage.

What is Intracranial Hemorrhaging (Brain Bleeding)?

An intracranial hemorrhage is bleeding that occurs in the skull. There are several types of intracranial hemorrhages in infants including:Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, Infant Intracranial Hemorrhages, Brain Bleeds

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: probably the most common type and is where there is bleeding in the subarachnoid space – the area between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater (protective coverings that surround the brain). This is a form of stroke and is a medical emergency that can lead to death or severe disability. Symptoms in newborns include seizures, apnea, lethargy, and abnormal neurological exams.
  • Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma: this is bleeding that is due to a rupture of one or more blood vessels that are in the subdural space (between the surface of the brain and the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain from the skull). In infants, symptoms include bulging fontanels, focal Lateral Ventricles | Neonatal Brainand generalized seizures, increased head circumference, lethargy, vomiting, and irritability.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage: this is bleeding in the brain’s ventricular system (where spinal fluid is produced). It is the most serious type of intracranial bleeding and occurs most often in premature infants and infants with low birth weight.

How is Intracranial Bleeding from Head Trauma in Newborns Diagnosed and Treated?

Once the symptoms above are observed, the next step is generally brain imaging studies such as head CTs and MRIs to confirm the presence of blood within the skull. Sometimes ultrasonography and testing of cerebral spinal fluid is also done.

Treatment of intracranial bleeds is mostly of a supportive nature although neurosurgical intervention may be necessary to manage subdural hematomas. The prognosis varies depending on the severity and location of the bleed. Some infants do very well with little or no residual effects. More severe bleeds can result in mental and physical impairments such as intellectual impairments, learning disabilities, and cerebral palsy.


Intracranial hemorrhages and resulting brain damage may result from a mismanaged labor and delivery, an error in judgment, or an error in the use of delivery equipment such as forceps or vacuums. If your child was diagnosed with any type of intracranial bleeding immediately after birth, the birth trauma attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers can help. We have the knowledge and professional experience to thoroughly examine the complex medical records of your child’s case, determine whether there was an error or negligence, and help you obtain the monetary compensation your child deserves. Contact ABC Law Centers today.

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