Some effects of a birth injury may be immediately apparent, especially when the infant is whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit. However, some birth injuries may take years before becoming obvious to parents when they notice something seems off with their child. Many of these injuries leave babies with life-long physical or mental disabilities that cannot be cured. Doctors have a duty of care to take steps to prevent such injuries.
What Is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury is one that occurs to a baby during or shortly before or after birth. These injuries can be caused by premature birth, fetal oxygen deprivation, prolonged labor, or trauma from impact during delivery. In many cases, medical negligence is responsible for birth injuries. The baby’s internal systems can be impaired from birth injuries that may range from minor bruising or lacerations to permanent injuries that lead to lifelong disabilities.
When Medical Negligence Causes Birth Injuries
Medical professionals must closely monitor mothers and babies during labor and delivery. If complications occur during the delivery, the physicians and medical team must act fast and appropriately to minimize the risk of injury to both the mother and baby that can last a lifetime.
When doctors fail to follow medical standards of care, medical negligence has occurred. One example is failing to order a C-section when conditions indicate one is needed, resulting in a birth injury. Another is when excessive use of forceps and vacuum cause injuries to the baby.
Common Birth Injuries
Not all birth injuries cause permanent damage. Bruises, scrapes, and minor fractures are common and will usually heal without the risk of future impairments. However, many common injuries can cause lifelong health issues, including:
- Cerebral palsy, a motor disorder caused by brain damage or abnormalities, including brain bleeds or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
- Kernicterus, a permanent neonatal brain injury caused when jaundice is improperly-treated
- Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) is a permanent injury to the white matter of the brain caused by trauma or oxygen deprivation
- Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus injuries caused when too much force is applied to the head and neck during delivery and causes nerve damage in the shoulder that results in arm weakness or paralysis
- Intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are disabilities that appear as profound limitations in cognitive function, and adaptive behaviors often noticed around school age or when developmental milestones are delayed
- Traumatic birth injuries caused by excessive mechanical force during the delivery, including traumatic brain injury
Premature Babies at Increased Risk
Babies who are born prematurely are at an increased risk of injury, including bleeding in the brain. Unfortunately, symptoms of a brain bleed are not always immediately apparent until the baby becomes lethargic, refuses to eat, or has seizures. By then the damage may be irreversible.
Because premature babies may be born with underdeveloped lungs and immature brains, they are more prone to fetal oxygen deprivation. Often, these babies need to be put on breathing machines that can cause overventilation injuries. These factors put them at increased risk for permanent brain damage, including cerebral palsy, PVL, HIE, I/DD, or other serious birth injuries.