Good prenatal medical care is one way to help ensure a healthy infant. Yet, even the most diligent and cautious parents may face the possibility of complications during delivery. In the U.S., there is an average of 6-8 birth injuries per 1,000 live births each year. The most frequent forms of birth injuries to infants involve the brain, the nerves, and the bones.
Brain injury during birth typically comes from perinatal asphyxia or a loss of oxygen. Some causes of this type of injury include compression of the umbilical cord, extreme meconium aspiration, narcotics administered during labor, and birth trauma. Perinatal asphyxia can lead to intellectual impairments, seizures, speech and language issues, behavior disorders, and movement disorders, like cerebral palsy. While a child can learn to compensate for impairments, the damage is usually permanent.
Intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding in or around the brain, is another way the brain can be damaged. Ruptured blood vessels create swelling that can kill brain tissue by disrupting the blood supply. Intracranial hemorrhage can happen during a prolonged delivery, an instrumental assisted delivery (forceps or an extraction device), and a breech delivery. It can cause many of the same long-term issues found with perinatal asphyxia but may also include vision impairment, infantile esotropia, or a crossing of the eyes. As in perinatal asphyxia, a child can learn to cope with the issues that result from an intracranial hemorrhage, yet the damage is most likely permanent.
An infant’s nervous system is another area commonly affected by birth injury. Facial nerve damage resulting in paralysis is the most common and typically comes from pressure on the nerve while in utero. However, damage can also occur during a prolonged pregnancy, a forceps delivery, or when epidural anesthesia or oxytocin is used during labor. Damage is usually evident when an infant cries and only one side of the face is engaged. It can also affect the eyelids and lips. This damage can be temporary or permanent.
The brachial plexus can be injured during delivery as well. This is a network of nerves that sends messages from the spine to the arm, shoulder, and hand. Damage can result from stretching to the infant’s shoulder during the birth process. If paralysis is found in the upper area of the shoulder and elbow, it is known as Erb-Duchenne palsy. If paralysis occurs in the lower area of the forearm and hand, it is called Dejerine-Klumpke palsy. Consequences of this damage may include a limp or paralyzed arm, a lack of sensation in the arm or hand, or a lack of muscle control in the arm or hand. Like facial nerve damage, brachial plexus damage can also be temporary or permanent.
As for an infant’s bones, fractures can occur during delivery, leading to additional birth injuries already discussed. Depressed skull fractures can result from the use of equipment, like forceps, and can cause further complications like intracranial hemorrhage. Fractures of the clavicle or humerus due to difficult deliveries can lead to brachial plexus conditions. Other bone fractures usually heal quickly and without added complications.
If your baby has suffered birth injuries and you suspect medical negligence, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Medical malpractice claims have unique and strict deadlines. To avoid missing these deadlines, you should not delay seeking legal guidance.