Birth injuries include trauma to an infant’s head, brain, nerves, bones or skin during labor and delivery, including damage resulting from inadequate oxygen supply. Birth injuries are not uncommon, and although most injuries heal with little or no treatment, in some cases damage can be severe and have life-long consequences or lead to infant death.
Infants are at a greater risk of injury from the birthing process when obstetric tools, such as forceps or vacuum extractors, are used, and when certain complications during pregnancy and delivery arise. Some risk factors can be determined before the onset of labor so that an appropriate birth plan can be devised to reduce the risk of serious injury to the infant. Planning surgical birth options can reduce the risk of severe injury when any of the following conditions exist:
- When the baby is premature or has an extremely low birth weight (ie: intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR).
- When the baby is positioned disadvantageously for a vaginal delivery.
- When the baby has delayed brain, lung and nerve development.
- If the birth mother’s pelvic dimensions are too small for the size of the baby’s head.
- When the birth mother or fetus have existing medical conditions.
- When there is too little amniotic fluid in the uterus.
- When the baby has fetal macrosomia (greater than 10 lbs.).
Many complications that arise during labor cannot always be predicted, such as an extremely long labor, or when the baby’s head does not rotate as it should during descent in the birth canal (although it may be anticipated when the baby is of disproportionately large size to that of the mother’s pelvic dimensions). When there are difficulties in the final stage of labor, the attending physician may intervene with forceps or a vacuum extractor to assist in delivering the baby. If used incorrectly, these instruments can cause skull fractures, brain injury, or possibly spinal cord damage that can lead to motor disabilities or paralysis. Oxygen deprivation in the antepartum, intrapartum (during the birthing process) or postpartum (in the immediate post birth) time periods can cause injuries such as intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), and other brain injuries. These injuries can lead to a subsequent diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.
Most minor birth injuries are caused by natural, environmental processes during labor and deliver. More than half of all significant trauma or injury can be avoided through advanced diagnosis and proper analysis of potential risk factors. Proper identification and immediate diagnosis of injury is crucial for successful treatment and the best possible recovery. If your child suffered injuries at or around birth, have your child’s medical records reviewed by an attorney with experience handling birth injury cases.