A birth injury or trauma is one that a newborn sustains during the process of labor and delivery. They are extremely rare. According to one 2009-2010 hospital study, it was found that birth injuries only occur in roughly 6-8 births out of every 1000. Despite the fact that they are rare, however, birth injuries do happen in hospitals across the United States. No expecting mother is completely immune from the risks.
There are two types of birth injuries—those that can be avoided and those that are unavoidable. Birth injuries such as subgaleal hematomas (head bleeds) are the most common (found in 38.7% of cases), but other types of birth injuries include the following:
- Cerebral palsy
- Erb’s palsy
- Klumpke paralysis
- Traumatic brain injury
- Fetal hypoxia
- Brachial plexus injury (commonly caused by shoulder dystocia)
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (also known as HIE, a type of brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation)
- Facial damage
- Musculoskeletal injuries like fractures or broken bones
- Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), often referred to as “newborn blindness”
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Birth Injury Causes
Most birth injuries—whether they are unavoidable or avoidable—are directly caused by difficulties or trauma experienced during labor, difficulties during child extraction, shoulder dystocia, maternal pelvic anomalies, hypoxic ischemia, and in some cases the instrumentation used (forceps/vacuum-related).
Whether a specific injury can be avoided or not depends on many factors, but one of the leading causes of avoidable birth injuries is, unfortunately, negligence and malpractice. Doctors and medical staff members do make mistakes from time to time and it’s no secret that childbirth is often rushed when hospitals are understaffed and staff members assume that everything will go as planned.
There are a number of ways that malpractice or negligence can lead to a birth injury. Having an incomplete medical history or rushing a delivery without getting a complete history is one possible cause. Improperly using forceps or a vacuum extractor is another. Delaying a cesarean section for too long or failing to respond quickly enough to a bleed or other complication are also common causes which can be tied to negligence.
One of the most dangerous causes of numerous types of birth injuries is a condition known as shoulder dystocia. During a shoulder dystocia, the baby’s shoulder or shoulders get caught on the mother’s symphysis pubis (pubic bone) at the brim or other location of the pelvis. Forcing the baby out once they are caught can cause serious, permanent damage to the newborn in the form of broken bones or an injury to the brachial plexus, a sensitive bundle of nerves which supplies the sensory and motor components of the shoulders, hands, and arms.
Once these nerves are injured during delivery, a myriad of complications can happen immediately following the child’s birth or even years afterwards during the child’s development. Possible outcomes include cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy, fetal hypoxia, Klumpke paralysis, or even fetal death in some cases. The mother can also experience a serious hemorrhage or uterine rupture while giving birth under these conditions.
There are ways to prevent a shoulder dystocia. A slower, undisturbed childbirth is sometimes recommended for women who might be predisposed to the condition. Early risk factor identification, altering the position of the mother during delivery, and shifting the position of the baby’s shoulders during delivery can also all help to avoid the condition.
Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE, is a birth injury directly caused by a lack of oxygen (referred to as hypoxic ischemia) to a newborn’s brain during delivery. A newborn baby can compensate for a short period of time without oxygen, but after mere minutes of being denied oxygen, brain tissue starts to suffer irreversible damage and can become permanently destroyed.
According to recent cerebral palsy research, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy which is caused by neonatal or fetal asphyxia (the act of a baby being deprived oxygen during childbirth) is one of the leading causes of death or severe impairment among infants. HIE is linked directly to cerebral palsy and other forms of severe nerve impairment.
Similar to shoulder dystocia, there are many ways to avoid hypoxic ischemia during the birth of a child. Electronic fetal monitoring must be present at all times during the delivery process, especially if there are complications for whatever reason. All doctors, medical staff, and obstetricians must also be aware of the dangers of asphyxia and take instantaneous action to allow the newborn to breathe again if their airway ever becomes obstructed.
Birth Injury Prevention Methods and Options
While not all birth injuries can be prevented, most injuries can be avoided completely by training doctors and staff members to keep a closer watch on mothers who are in labor and ensuring that the correct responses and interventions are made when complications arise. Early identification of risk factors during delivery along with regular follow-up care throughout the mother’s pregnancy term can also help.
If you or someone you love has had a child suffer from injuries you believe were caused by negligence or malpractice during delivery, it’s too late to go back and reverse those injuries, unfortunately, but legal aid is one option you and your family are 100% entitled to. Under Kentucky law, you can pursue compensation from the negligent party. However, this is subject to a statute of limitations. If you think your child’s birth injury is the result of negligence, you should immediately seek sound legal advice. You may be entitled to receive compensation for medical costs, travel expenses, emotional hardship, and other losses.
Thomas Law Offices understands the complexities of birth injury cases and is ready to help. Attorney Tad Thomas is known for providing compassionate yet aggressive legal representation for all of his clients. He can help you understand your legal rights and determine the best course of action in your specific case. To learn more, call today for a free consultation with a Louisville medical malpractice lawyer.