Birth injuries are a broad categorization of any type of injury that happens during labor and delivery (including trauma and oxygen deprivation). The severity of birth injuries can vary from harmless to severe. Many birth injuries result in permanent disability (which can be intellectual, cognitive, or physical or any combination of the three). In many cases, physicians can avoid causing birth injuries by following standards of care, properly monitoring the health status or mother and child and promptly addressing any issues or suspected issues that arise during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Some birth injuries are evident immediately after birth. Typical signs and symptoms that a birth injury may have occurred, include the following:
- The baby is pale or blue in color
- Breathing and/or heart rate are slow or resuscitation efforts are required
- The infant is sluggish or lethargic
- No interest in or difficulty feeding
- Odd movements in the face, arms, or legs (seizures) or favoring one side of the body
- Low APGAR scores at one minute and/or later.
Often, the injury is not identified for years until the child misses key developmental milestones or reaches school age and learning disabilities become apparent.
Types of Birth Injuries
In this section, we’ll briefly cover three of the most common groupings of birth injuries—fetal oxygen deprivation, traumatic birth injuries, and premature birth injuries.
1. Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) or Birth Asphyxia
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (birth asphyxia) is a dangerous neonatal birth injury and brain injury that occurs when a neonate suffers oxygen deprivation around the time of delivery. HIE, which occurs when the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, is a preventable injury and often results from medical personnel failing to take note of fetal distress. When a baby is suffering from oxygen deprivation, it is critical that physicians and other medical professionals take quick action—such as performing an emergency C-section—during oxygen-depriving obstetrical emergencies.
The following obstetrical emergencies are a few examples of situations and complications that can cause HIE:
- Umbilical cord compression or prolapse (blood and oxygen to the baby are diminished or cut off)
- Uterine rupture
- Placental abruption (placenta separates from the uterine wall)
2. Traumatic Birth Injuries
Traumatic birth injuries are injuries that occur to an infant during delivery that is a result of mechanical forces like compression or traction. The most common areas affected by traumatic birth injuries are the brain, spine, nerves and bones. A baby’s size (ex: macrosomic), position (ex: breech), and neurological fragility can complicate the birthing process. If not handled appropriately by medical professionals, traumatic injury can result.
Some types of traumatic birth injuries include the following:
- Intracranial hemorrhages (brain bleeds): This is any type of bleeding that occurs within the baby’s skull or brain. There are several types of brain bleeds:
- Cerebral hemorrhage (form of stroke where bleeding occurs within the brain itself)
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the area between the innermost of the two membranes that cover the brain)
- Intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the brain’s ventricular system, where spinal fluid is produced)
- Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma (ruptured blood vessel in the area between the surface of the brain and the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain from the skull)
- Cephalohematoma (bleeding that occurs between the skull and its covering)
- Erb’s palsy (or brachial plexus injury) is a condition resulting from injury to the brachial plexus nerves near the neck and is often a result of a medical practitioner pulling on a baby’s head when the baby is stuck in the birth canal.
3. Premature Birth
Medical professionals are required to diagnose preterm labor and must follow standards to prevent premature birth when possible. This may include administration of medications to stop contractions, mature the baby’s lungs and prevent infection and sometimes a cervical cerclage (a stitch in the cervix to prevent birth). Some common causes of prematurity:
- Incompetent or weakened cervix (pressure from the baby’s weight causes the cervix to start to open before the baby is ready to be born).
- Infection: Some infections, if untreated in the mother, can be transmitted to the baby through the birth canal. Sepsis, meningitis and encephalitis are the most serious and can result in permanent brain damage.
Treatments for Birth Injuries
A serious birth injury can result in lifelong disability. For example, a child afflicted with cerebral palsy may require many different types of treatments and therapies. Likewise, an infant suffering from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (lack of oxygen) during birth may require hypothermia (cooling) treatments to minimize brain damage.
Below are some of the most common treatments prescribed for birth injured children:
- Hypothermia (Brain Cooling)
- Physical Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Speech Therapy
Medical Malpractice and Birth Injuries
When delivery complications arise, it is the responsibility of the nurses, doctors or other medical professionals to act quickly and appropriately to minimize the risks to the mother and baby. Medical malpractice occurs when this does not happen. Some examples of medical negligence include:
- The failure to identify and plan for complicated births such as a larger baby
- The failure to diagnose and treat problems prior to delivery like placenta previa or maternal infection
- The failure to recognize problems with the umbilical cord
- The failure to order a timely c-section when necessary
- The failure to identify and adequately respond to fetal distress/ non-reassuring fetal monitor results
- The failure to diagnose and/or stop preterm birth
- Medication errors
- Incorrect use of delivery instruments (forceps, vacuum extractors)
Trusted Legal Help for Children with HIE, Cerebral Palsy and Other Birth Injuries
Michigan Birth Injury Attorneys with a National Presence
Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers is a national birth injury law firm that has been helping children since its inception in 1997. While our team is based in Michigan, we handle cases all over the United States. Many of our clients have hailed from Michigan, Ohio, Washington D.C., Arkansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and other states. The Reiter & Walsh, P.C. birth trauma team has also handled FTCA cases involving military medical malpractice and federally funded clinics.
If your child was diagnosed with a permanent disability or injury, such as brain damage, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), our award-winning team can help. Our legal and medical team has helped families throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong care, treatment, therapy and security. To learn more about our past cases, we encourage you to visit our Case Results page here. Because we work on a contingency basis, you will never pay anything until we reach a favorable verdict, settlement and case outcome for you and your family.
Contact Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers to begin your free case evaluation. Our award-winning birth trauma lawyers are available 24/7 to speak with you.
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Related Articles and Blogs on Birth Injuries from Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers
- “Danger: forceps and vacuum extractors can cause brain injury, says birth injury attorney.”
- “Errors in fetal monitoring may result in birth injury.”
- “Birth injury may be responsible for developmental delays in some children.”
- “Traumatic birth injuries: risk factors and types.”
- “Birth trauma (head trauma) during labor and delivery may result in newborn intracranial hemorrhages (brain bleeds) and permanent brain damage.”
- “Premature birth complications and causes.”
- “Large settlements offered to boys who suffered cerebral palsy as a result of medical staff failing to notice severe complications during labor.”
- “For two days, physicians fail to diagnose and treat premature rupture of membranes and twins are born with permanent disabilities”