Birth injury describes physical trauma to a fetus or infant during the process of childbirth. Most birth injuries occur in the second stage of labor and delivery when the fetus passes through the birth canal. Birth injuries can cause brachial plexus injuries, intracranial hemorrhage, and intellectual disabilities.
If you experienced a difficult delivery that left your newborn with signs of a childbirth injury, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your child's medical expenses, including doctor's bills, medical equipment, and therapy. Read on to learn about the 10 most common birth injuries, possible causes, and why they might be the result of medical malpractice.
What Are the Causes of Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries occur for several reasons including prolonged labor, oxygen deprivation, or as a result of medical malpractice. The circumstances of the pregnancy or birth may also contribute to a birth injury. Traumatic birth outcomes may be caused by:
- Delayed birth: Prolonged labor is associated with birth injuries. Labors that continue past 18 hours place increased pressure on an infant's brain, leading to fetal distress and elevated blood pressure. Stress on blood vessels in the brain is a risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular injury.
- Oxygen deprivation: Lack of oxygen during delivery can cause conditions such as cerebral palsy birth injury. Oxygen deprivation occurs when a baby gets stuck in the birth canal or due to a prolapsed umbilical cord. When the brain is severely deprived of oxygen, it can leave children with serious physical and developmental delays.
- Medical malpractice: Some birth injuries are the result of human error. A medical professional who allows a vaginal delivery to progress despite knowing the baby's size may prevent them from being safely delivered can be found liable for birth injuries the child sustains as a result. Likewise, a physician who uses excess force to speed a woman's labor with vacuum extraction or forceps may heighten the risk of traumatic brain injury at birth.
- Circumstantial causes: The circumstances of the birth itself can lead to injury. Babies weighing more than average are at increased risk for birth injuries, as are babies born to mothers with narrow pelvises. Some medications and infections are also responsible for complications during delivery.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
While a number of complications can arise during labor and delivery or shortly following birth, the most common types of birth injuries that lead to lawsuits include:
1. Brachial Palsy
Brachial palsy causes arm weakness and paralysis as a result of damage to the brachial plexus nerve. Erb's palsy is one of the most common types of brachial plexus palsy and happens when a doctor pulls on an infant's neck, damaging the nerves.
2. Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is a group of conditions resulting from a brain injury at birth that impact muscle tone and movement. Symptoms appear during infancy and early childhood. Cerebral palsy occurs due to asphyxiation or lack of oxygen to the brain. Failing to monitor signs of fetal distress during labor is a medical error that may result in cerebral palsy due to birth injury.
3. Caput Succedaneum
Caput succedaneum is a type of newborn head injury recognizable by swelling or bruising on a baby's scalp. Caput succedaneum is usually temporary and resolves itself. However, it can lead to other complications such as newborn jaundice. The condition is more common in prolonged labors or when a physician uses a vacuum extractor.
Bruising is common following childbirth because of the trauma an infant's body must endure as it moves down the birth canal. The use of forceps during delivery increases the likelihood of head and facial bruising in newborns.
A cephalohematoma is a collection of blood pooling under the skin on a baby's scalp caused by the use of forceps, vacuum extraction, or excessive force. The resulting hemorrhage may appear as a bump and take several months to disappear. Babies born with this condition are at higher risk for jaundice, anemia, and infections, and should also be evaluated for skull fractures.
6. Facial Paralysis
Facial paralysis in infants can be caused by the way a fetus was positioned in the uterus during pregnancy, from becoming stuck in the birth canal during delivery, or due to a cut to the face or skull fracture caused by medical interventions at birth. Symptoms include drooping of the mouth, difficulty eating or drinking, and difficulty closing an eyelid.
7. Broken Bones
Excessive force can lead to fractures of the limbs, clavicle, and skull. Medical professionals using forced maneuvers during C-sections or breech deliveries commonly contribute to breaking a baby's arm or leg. Signs of fracture include the lack of use of the body part.
8. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage
This condition occurs when pressure to a baby's head causes blood vessels in the eye to burst. The result is bleeding and red patches that form on the whites of the eyeball. Subconjunctival hemorrhage is more common in babies with above-average birth weights, following a prolonged labor, or due to the misuse of forceps or vacuum extractors.
9. Spinal Cord Injuries
Among the most serious birth traumas, spinal cord injuries affect a child's ability to move their extremities and/or regulate breathing, or cause loss of function to the bladder or bowels. Often a result of medical malpractice, improperly pulling or twisting an infant during delivery can lead to spinal cord injuries. In some cases, they are the result of a missed spina bifida diagnosis.
10. Perinatal Asphyxia
Perinatal asphyxia is a lack of oxygen to the blood resulting in a dangerous condition called acidosis. Acidosis can lead to respiratory distress and neurological issues. A failure to monitor fetal heart rate or perform an emergency C-section contribute to perinatal asphyxia.
Do Birth Injuries Occur Due to Medical Malpractice?
Not all birth injuries are caused by medical malpractice, but many can be attributed to provider negligence. If you have questions about your child's condition and whether it may be the result of medical malpractice, consult a birth injury law firm. An experienced birth injury attorney is best equipped to guide you in understanding birth injury and birth defect lawsuits.
The Long-Effect Risks Associated With Birth Injuries
A birth injury may cause only mild symptoms that resolve on their own over time. However, severe birth injuries lead to a lifetime of physical and developmental disabilities. Treatment for these conditions is costly, including medical and surgical expenses, hospitalization, medical equipment, therapy, and adaptations to your home and vehicle.
Filing a Birth Injury Claim Against Medical Professionals
A birth injury lawsuit settlement can ease your family's financial burdens so you can focus on your child. Holding hospitals and medical professionals accountable for their negligent behavior may also save other families from going through the grief and pain you've experienced.
Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice
Hire a firm that specializes in handling birth injury medical malpractice cases. The team at Ratzan, Weissman, and Boldt focuses on birth trauma and birth injury litigation. We only take on a limited number of hand-selected cases each year to provide our clients with the individual attention they deserve.
Ratzan, Weissman, and Boldt has secured record-setting settlements and trial verdicts in Miami, throughout Florida, and across the country. Contact us today to learn how we can help you pursue the compensation you deserve.