Six (6) babies of every 1,000 births in the United States suffer a birth injury or birth trauma. In 2014, for instance, over 23,700 babies were injured at birth in this country. Some injuries resolved quickly or were easily treated, while others were very serious causing function problems of the brain, muscles, spinal cord, or nerves (i.e., neurological deficiencies). Neurologic injuries are nearly always permanent and debilitating. Though there are different causes for birth injuries, these are the most common ones:
During the Birth Process:
- When the baby is not receiving enough oxygen during the labor or birth process (fetal distress). The fetal monitor visually alerts healthcare providers of this danger before the baby suffers injury.
- Obstructed flow of blood through the umbilical cord to the baby, because of an uncorrected pinch point, impingement, or blockage (e.g., umbilical cord compression, prolapse, or occlusion). The fetal monitor visually alerts healthcare providers of this danger.
- When the exiting baby gets stuck in the birth canal on the way out (because of size or position) and the condition is not timely corrected by a healthcare provider (i.e., dystocia).
- When the organ that supplies the baby with nutrients, oxygen, and waste elimination (the placenta) gets damaged or disconnected from the uterine wall during the labor process (e.g., placenta previa, placental abruption), and a healthcare provider does not timely rescue the infant from danger.
During the Newborn Period:
- Seizures of a newborn not timely treated by a healthcare provider. They eventually cause injury.
- Babies born at less than 37 weeks gestational age are “preterm” or “premature” births. The more premature the baby, the more likely an organ or system has not developed fully. Premature newborns, for instance, may have a problem with the heart, blood pressure, circulation, breathing, digestive system, nutrition, hydration, temperature, infection, liver (e.g., yellow color of the skin, called jaundice), or bleeding.
- Hereditary conditions which interfere with the baby’s digestion.
- The placenta can get damaged, disconnected, or malfunction during the pregnancy (e.g., placental abruption, intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR), etc.). If a healthcare provider does not timely rescue the baby from the danger, injury and even death can occur.
- The mother’s high blood pressure (e.g., preeclampsia, eclampsia, toxemia, or diabetes). If high blood pressure is not timely treated and corrected by a healthcare provider, it may injury or cause death to the baby.
- Certain infections can occur during a first pregnancy, including toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex, or group B strep. If infection is not corrected, it may injury the baby.
- Certain prescription or non-prescription drugs.
- Exposure to certain toxic chemicals or harmful environmental hazards.
- Severe malnutrition of the mother.
- Certain genetic defects or syndromes.
Some birth injuries occur naturally, even under the best medical care. Unfortunately preventable errors by healthcare providers cause many of the others. In many births injury could have been avoided or considerably less severe if a healthcare provider gave timely medical treatment. Common medical mistakes that severely injure babies around the time of birth include:
- Improper use of labor-stimulating medicine (e.g., Pitocin, Cytotec).
- Not watching, or misreading, the fetal monitor strips.
- Excessive or improper use of force during delivery.
- Misuse of forceps (a handheld, hinged instrument used for grasping) during delivery.
- Misuse of a vacuum extractor (a vacuum pump put on the crown of the baby’s head to pull) during delivery.
- A nurse or nurse midwife not timely seeking help from a physician.
- Not responding timely to fetal distress by delivering the baby quickly through a caesarian section (a surgical incision).
- Withholding medical treatment for abnormal bleeding.
- Delaying a needed cesarean section.
- Withholding correction of an umbilical cord obstruction or impingement.
- Withholding supplemental oxygen needed by the newborn (e.g., putting a tube in the baby’s windpipe to maintain an open airway).
- Incorrectly performing steps to resuscitate a newborn.
- Withholding treatment for a newborn’s medical situation (e.g., high or low blood sugar, high or low blood pressure, blood loss, low oxygen, yellow color skin (jaundice), high bilirubin level).
In severe cases, the child will suffer developmental disorders, brain damage, muscle dysfunction, or nerve injury. Severe birth injuries include:
- Cerebral palsy (a neurological disorder) which can permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination.
- Brain injury.
- Spinal cord injury.
- Injury to the brachial-plexus nerve (a nerve that runs from the neck to fingers) which causes arm paralysis.
- Bone fractures.
- Cranial-nerve injury.
- Laryngeal-nerve injury.
- Intra-abdominal injury.
- Group-B Strep disease.
- Soft tissue injury (e.g., abrasions, lacerations, cephalhematoma or subgaleal hematoma (a collection of blood in the skull), caput succedaneum (bleeding below the scalp), subcutaneous fat necrosis (firm, inflamed, lumps in the fat).
Perhaps a birth injury has happened to a newborn in your family. If you or someone close to you recently suffered a difficult labor or delivery and injury to the newborn, act quickly to preserve evidence. The only way to determine if the injury was avoidable is to have prenatal, delivery, and newborn medical care attentively reviewed by qualified professionals who understand the complex physiology of mother and fetus during gestation, stresses the baby undergoes during the birth, mechanisms to cope with the stresses, adjusting the newborn to life outside of the womb, and requirements and responses to stresses and factors in the environment.
At Buchanan & Buchanan, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases, especially birth injury and birth trauma. We have experienced medical professionals on staff to talk with you right away and review your claim. We quickly and efficiently to assess the medical facts and take immediate action to protect your rights. And, if we find malpractice caused injury, we will take the wrongdoer to court to secure fair and just compensation for the injured child.