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Was My Child’s Birth Injury Preventable?

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2021 | Birth Injury

The arrival of a new baby is often a time of joy. However, injuries sustained during birth can have devastating impacts on the life and well-being of a child. While not all birth injuries are preventable, some birth injuries result from the negligent acts of the medical team who helped to deliver the baby. Here, the medical malpractice attorneys at Peter Angelos Law further explain what constitutes a birth injury and whether or not birth injuries are preventable.

What is a Birth Injury?

A birth injury is defined as any injury that a baby suffers before, during, or directly after childbirth. Many infants suffer from minor injuries during delivery that heal completely on their own. However, some birth injuries can result in severe complications that can have life-long impacts.

Birth injuries can affect any area of the baby’s body, but the most common birth injuries affect the brain, head, nerves, bones, skin, and soft tissues.

How is a Birth Injury Different From a Birth Defect?

Birth injuries and birth defects can both have serious impacts on a child’s life. However, the main differentiator between the two is how they develop.

Birth defects are relatively common: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. While birth defects can occur during any stage of pregnancy, most occur in the first three months of pregnancy when the baby’s organs are developing. In addition, the exact cause of most birth defects is often unknown. Doctors believe that a variety of factors lead to birth defects, including genetics, behaviors, and environmental factors.

Birth injuries generally occur during the birth process. They are the result of either negligence or an unavoidable complication.

What are Examples of Birth Injuries?

Below is a list of common birth injuries:

  • Brachial palsy: Occurs when the group of nerves that supplies the arms and hands is injured. It most commonly occurs when there is trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder. The baby loses the ability to flex and rotate the arm. If the injury caused bruising and swelling around the nerves, movement should return within a few months. However, if the nerves are torn, permanent nerve damage may occur.
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE): Brain damage that is caused by decreased blood and oxygen levels to the brain. HIE leads to the destruction of brain cells and tissue in the motor cortex, which can lead to cerebral palsy and periventricular leukomalacia. HIE is the most common type of brain damage during childbirth.
  • Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL): Occurs when the white matter in the brain dies, resulting in the loss of brain tissue. White matter is made up of nerve fibers that relay signals for motor function and can affect the brain’s ability to learn and function. PVL is caused by a lack of blood flow to the periventricular area of the brain and can co-occur with bleeding. Placental failure and infection may cause PVL.
  • Intracranial hemorrhage: Classified as bleeding in the brain. The most common cause of intracranial hemorrhage is a fetal stroke from blocked or damaged blood vessels. High blood pressure, placenta complications, and reproductive system infections in the mother may lead to an intracranial hemorrhage. This is most common in premature infants.
  • Cerebral dysgenesis: This describes abnormal development of the fetal brain. This generally occurs during pregnancy when the fetal brain is forming. Direct injury to the baby’s head during or shortly after delivery can also cause cerebral dysgenesis. Infections in the fetal brain can mutate genes responsible for motor function development.

Was My Child’s Birth Injury Preventable?

While birth injuries occur during childbirth, there are certain factors that may make you and your baby more at risk. It is important that your medical team understand and identify these risk factors to ensure that the odds of sustaining a birth injury are mitigated.

The following are maternal risk factors:

  • Certain pelvis shapes or sizes: If the mother’s pelvis shape is not conducive to a safe birth, there is potential for the child to struggle or twist in the birth canal, resulting in the loss of oxygen flow.
  • Difficult labor or delivery: May be caused by an awkwardly positioned fetus or by a cervix that is unable to expand. Both of these conditions make it difficult for the child to exit the birth canal.
  • Prolonged labor: Generally associated with a higher risk of birth injuries due to difficulty with the fetus exiting the birth canal.

In addition, the baby may present with several risk factors that could lead to a birth injury. They include:

  • Babies weighing over 8 pounds and 13 ounces: This condition is known as macrosomia. Heavier infants are at a higher risk of a difficult delivery.
  • Babies born prematurely: Babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy have a higher risk for birth injury because the child’s muscles and nervous system have not fully developed.
  • Abnormal fetal position: If infants are in a head-up, buttocks-first, or breech position, they are more likely to suffer a birth injury.

Your doctors should take note of these risk factors and take appropriate action to ensure that the birth goes smoothly. If a doctor fails to meet the standard of care and a birth injury is sustained, there may be a viable medical malpractice case.

If any of the following actions occurred during your child’s birth, medical negligence may have taken place:

  • Failure to act quickly in dangerous situations
  • Failure to diagnose any apparent health conditions in the mother or the baby
  • Failure to monitor the mother or baby after childbirth
  • Misuse of birthing tools such as forceps or vacuum extractor
  • Use of unnecessary force during childbirth

Complications that result from the above actions can result in long-term birth injuries that may have a detrimental impact on a child.

Who Should I Contact If I Think Medical Malpractice Caused My Child’s Birth Injury?

A birth injury comes with a lot of challenges for both the baby and the parents. While financial compensation does not erase the pain caused by medical malpractice, it can aid with the cost of medical bills, physical or occupational therapy, and any necessary medical equipment. It is important that you consult an experienced legal team who can help gather evidence to support your case and represent you in court. At Peter Angelos Law, we have decades of experience representing families and individuals who have been impacted by a birth injury. To learn more, fill out the form below.