Of every 1,000 babies born in the United States, five will experience some type of injury during childbirth. Birth injuries vary in type and severity. Some injuries are out of the control of doctors and nurses. A significant number of these injuries, however, are the result of medical negligence or malpractice. Some common types of birth injuries include the following.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries, even mild ones, can result in permanent disabilities. Many of these injuries occur because of reckless or negligent behavior by medical professionals. Undiagnosed brain infections and doctors’ errors when using forceps and vacuum extraction are some of the primary causes of these injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries include:
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: HIE involves damage to the brain due to oxygen deprivation.
- Neonatal seizures: An infant experiences these seizures in his or her first days.
- Microcephaly: This is often an unpreventable genetic disorder. A head that is too small is a typical sign of this condition.
Brachial Plexus Injuries
The brachial plexus consists of a network of nerves that stretches from the shoulder to the hands. Injuries to these nerves can cause the hand or whole arm to become paralyzed or weak.
Brachial plexus injuries can occur when doctors are pulling on a baby’s head or neck in a difficult delivery or pulling on the feet in a feet-first delivery. The brachial plexus can also be damaged when a baby’s shoulders, head, or neck becomes stuck during delivery.
Excessive pressure on a baby’s face during labor or birth can damage facial nerves and cause paralysis. The use of forceps can also cause this injury. Facial paralysis becomes noticeable when a baby is crying as one or both sides of the face will not move. Facial paralysis usually heals within a few weeks if the nerve was bruised. If the nerve is torn, surgery may be required.
Broken bones can occur before or during delivery. Infants may suffer a broken collarbone when being delivered quickly because of fetal distress or hypoxia. It is typically a minor problem that results from preventing a larger problem and usually heals quickly.
Medical negligence can also cause broken bones. Babies can suffer multiple fractures because of birth trauma, undiagnosed metabolic disorders, or vitamin deficiencies.
A baby can sustain an infection before, during, and soon after delivery. Maternal infections that are not identified and treated properly can travel to the baby and infect the brain (encephalitis), membranes around the spinal cord and brain (meningitis), and the lungs (pneumonia). Unsanitary hospital conditions can also cause birth-related infections.
Warning signs of infections in newborns include:
- Decreased movement
- Poor feeding
- Digestive problems (diarrhea, vomiting)
- Elevated or decreased body temperature
- Odd skin color
In many cases, medical practitioners can prevent injuries to newborns. This is achieved by following the proper standards of care, monitoring the status of both mother and child carefully, and addressing suspected issues promptly. Regardless of the type of injury that a baby may have, parents should take the medical condition seriously. It is important for parents to seek a second opinion if it is believed the baby has been injured.