Birth injuries can range from the comparatively mild to the catastrophic. Compared to just a few decades ago, serious birth injuries are an unusual event. Still, serious birth injuries occur and many of them are completely avoidable. If your child was injured in birth, you may have questions about how you will protect your child, provide the best medical care, and ensure her financial security.
Birth is a dangerous process for both mother and child. Fortunately, technological advances have made it possible to avoid most serious birth injuries and, in fact, the occurrence of serious birth injuries has become increasingly uncommon over the last several decades. Still, there remain incidents when doctors, nurses, midwives, anesthetists, and other hospital staff fail to provide proper care — and tragedy is the result.
A parent may face no more difficult challenge than that of an injury to a newborn. Ensuring that the child receives the necessary medical care, making certain that the child receives appropriate long-term care, and planning for a secure financial future suddenly become immediate demands on parents expecting to go home with a healthy baby. If the injury was an avoidable one, the parents’ burden can be magnified by doctors or hospitals who fail to be forthright about how the injury happened.
Types of Avoidable Birth Injuries
Cerebral palsy, brachial plexus injury, fractures, and facial nerve damage are among the most common birth injuries. Other birth injuries that result from failure to diagnose or properly treat prenatal complications are addressed in our article on Obstetrical Malpractice.
Cerebral palsy refers to a brain injury whose symptoms may include lost or impaired movement and cognitive dysfunction. The condition results from injury to the brain during birth. There are many potential causes of cerebral palsy, including the improper use of forceps; birth asphyxia; failure to detect fetal distress; and allowing the baby to remain for too long in the birth canal. The condition is not a progressive one but is permanent.
Brachial Plexus Injury (Erb’s palsy) is nerve damage caused by excessive stretching of the nerve bundle that goes from the spinal cord to the arm. This injury can occur during delivery, often when a shoulder gets stuck (shoulder dystocia) and a physician or midwife uses excessive force. Erb’s palsy is not always the result of medical negligence, but it can be caused by failure to properly recognize the weight or size of the newborn or failure to perform a C-section when needed; failure to recognize gestational diabetes; and improper use of forceps or vacuum. Most babies improve within six months — but for those who do not, surgery is the only option and the prognosis is often poor.
Fractures are rare but still occur. The collarbone (clavicle) is the most commonly fractured bone during delivery. The skull, upper arm (humerus), or upper leg bone (femur) also sometimes fracture in delivery. Fortunately, these injuries typically heal quickly and completely. Occasionally, nerve damage can be permanent and depressed skull fractures can result in long-term consequences.
Facial nerve damage is caused by pressure on the facial nerves during birth, including pressure from forceps. If the nerve was only bruised, the injury usually resolves within a few weeks. If the nerve is torn, surgery may be required to reattach the nerve and there may be permanent damage.