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What Should Expectant Mothers Know About Birth Injuries?

August 9, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that about seven in every 1,000 children will suffer from a birth injury. These birth injuries are frequently caused by medical conditions that are left untreated or are the result of malpractice during the delivery. Let’s look at some of the questions expectant mothers have about birth injuries.

What are the Common Signs of Birth Injuries After Delivery?

Birth injuries sometimes are identifiable immediately after delivery with typical signs that signal possible injuries including the following conditions of the baby:

  • Skin color turning pale or blue;
  • Slow breathing with a slow heart rate or a need for resuscitation;
  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Hypertonic (muscle tone that is too tight or rigid) or hypotonic (floppy, such as having little or no control of the neck muscles);
  • Unusual movements in body parts such as in the face, legs, arms, and other parts; and
  • Abnormal reflexes as in a failure to respond to noise or an inability to comprehend objects.

Expectant mothers should be aware that different babies have different signs of possible birth injuries; thus, a careful examination is critical to determine the correct diagnosis.

What are the Typical Causes of Birth Injuries?

There are a number of reasons why a difficult birthing process can happen that can result in different birth injuries. Common conditions connected to birth injuries and difficult birthing include:

  • Large babies (with birthweight over about 8 pounds, 13 ounces);
  • Premature babies (born before 37 weeks);
  • A baby in disproportion in the shape or size of the mother’s pelvis (Cephalopelvic disproportion);
  • Difficult childbirth (Dystocia);
  • A prolonged labor;
  • Abnormal birthing presentation (such as breech);
  • Maternal obesity; as well as
  • Unconventional delivery methods.

What are the Most Common Types of Birth Injuries?

There are several common birth injuries that make occur during the birth process:

Cerebral Palsy. Approximately 2.5 out of every 1,000 babies are at risk of cerebral palsy. This is defined as a lack of motor skill development, muscle spasms, and weak muscles. Cerebral palsy can be caused by brain damage during the birthing process and can be the result of a lack of proper monitoring of the child’s mother: inadequate techniques used during the birthing process’ and improper monitoring of fetal distress during labor. A child with cerebral palsy frequently needs therapy for his or her entire life. Plus, he or she may suffer additional health problems, such as hearing and vision impairments, speech problems, and learning difficulties.

Brachial Plexus Palsy. This usually happens when there is damage to the nerves that supply the baby’s arms and hands (also known as “brachial plexus”). It’s frequently caused by problems when delivering the shoulders of the baby. This is also called “shoulder dystocia” and may result in the baby’s inability to rotate and flex its arms.

Erb’s Palsy. This is arm weakness and loss of motion that can happen in both infants and adults. Erb’s Palsy is typically the result of a physical injury during newborn delivery or by traumatic force downward on the upper arm and shoulder, damaging the brachial plexus.

Caput Succedaneum. This is a swelling in the baby’s scalp that happens when the baby needs vacuum extraction to assist with the delivery. The swelling often appears with discolored and bruised soft tissue. This condition usually will resolve itself without further treatment.

Bruising or Forceps Marks. Some babies may have signs of bruising on the face or head due to the trauma of passing through the birth canal and contact with the mother’s pelvic bones and tissues. If forceps are used in the delivery, it can leave temporary marks or bruises on the baby’s face and head. Likewise, babies delivered by vacuum extraction may suffer some scalp bruising or a scalp cut (laceration).

Cephalohematoma. This is an area of bleeding between the skull bone and its fibrous covering that frequently will appear a few hours after birth as a raised lump on the baby’s head. In time, the body reabsorbs the blood. Depending on the size, most cephalohematomas take a few weeks to a few months to completely disappear. If the area of bleeding is extensive, some babies may develop jaundice when red blood cells break down.

Facial Paralysis. Pressure on a baby’s face in labor or birth may injure the baby’s facial nerve. This may also happen if forceps are used for delivery. The injury is often apparent when the baby cries because there’s no movement on the injured side of the face, and that eye can’t be closed. If the nerve is only bruised, the paralysis usually improves in a few weeks. If the nerve was torn in delivery, surgery may be required.

Fractures. The fracture of the clavicle (collarbone) is the most common fracture during labor and delivery. The collarbone may break when there is difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder or during a breech delivery. A baby with a fractured clavicle rarely moves the arm on the side of the break. However, healing will happen quickly, and new bone forms. There may be a firm lump on the collarbone clavicle in the first 10 days.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. This injury is a breakage of small blood vessels in the baby’s eyes, and one or both of the eyes may have a bright red band in the white of the eye. However, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is quite common and doesn’t cause eye damage. The redness in the baby’s eyes is typically absorbed in a week or so.

Are Birth Injuries Preventable?

Yes, they can be. In some cases, the reasons for birth injuries are improper prenatal care; failure to detect an ongoing infection during the pregnancy; a side effect caused by an incorrectly prescribed or dosed medication; and failure to identify issues that can be detected earlier on with the labor, the mother, and the baby. Many of these are preventable, and if your baby suffers an injury, you should discuss your case with an experienced Grand Rapids birth injury attorney.

Contact a Michigan Medical Negligence Attorney

If you or someone you know has recently suffered an injury that may be medical negligence resulting in injury or death in childbirth, speak with an experienced and knowledgeable Grand Rapids medical malpractice attorney immediately to protect your interests or those of your loved one.

Buchanan Firm retains medical professionals who are available to immediately investigate your claim to determine if the deviation was caused by medical negligence.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.