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An Introduction to Common Birth Injuries

The birth of a baby is a complex medical event that carries with it great risk and the possibility of infant injury. Sometimes trauma to a baby during labor or delivery is unavoidable. Unfortunately, too often birth injuries are caused by medical mistakes. A doctor or other medical professional involved in a birth may negligently take unwarranted action or fail to take crucial action.

A birth injury that may have been avoidable is a tragedy to everyone involved. According to 2006 statistics from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality – known as the AHRQ – out of every 1,000 U.S. hospital births, about 1.6 caused harm to the baby that was considered a “potentially avoidable injury.”

Certain factors make birth injury more likely:

  • Relatively large babies (approximately nine pounds or more)
  • Older gestational age
  • Pre-existing health problems like brittle-bone disease
  • Abnormal birth positioning such as breech presentation
  • Premature birth
  • Small maternal pelvic size
  • Shoulder dystocia wherein the baby’s shoulder gets stuck entering the mother’s pelvis area
  • Long labor

Some birth injuries that occur with greater frequency include:

  • Collarbone fractures: A broken clavicle that causes the newborn pain is the most common birth injury. Immobilizing the baby’s arm usually allows the bone to heal quickly.
  • Erb’s palsy: This condition manifests in newborn arm weakness and happens when the brachial plexus (nerves under the collarbone joining the neck and each arm) are damaged by stretching during delivery. The nerves normally heal, but sometimes surgical repair is required and the damage can be permanent.
  • Thigh-bone fractures: Occasionally, the femur breaks during twisting motions in delivery. The newborn may experience pain with motion and uses a special harness for about a month during healing.
  • Perinatal asphyxia: Severely restricted blood flow or oxygen levels can cause a variety of potentially devastating conditions, including brain injury, developmental delays, epilepsy, coma and more. The reason for asphyxia may not be discoverable, or may be from an unavoidable condition like an infection or inadequate placenta. Asphyxia may also be caused by umbilical cord pressure or rapid blood loss.
  • Dystonia: Brain damage from birth injury causes this disorder characterized by uncontrollable muscle movement or awkward limb positions.
  • Cerebral palsy: Nerve damage during or before birth possibly from lack of sufficient oxygen or blood flow causes permanent muscle stiffening with lack of motor control in a range of severities.
  • Facial paralysis: Pressure or forceps use during delivery may injure facial nerves preventing the baby from closing the affected eye or moving that side of the face. Recovery may require surgery.
  • Spinal cord injury: Rarely, severe stretching during deliver can injure the baby’s spinal cord, possibly causing permanent paralysis.

If your child experienced birth injury, speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney as early as possible about the situation and whether you have any legal recourse. You may already know the cause of the injury, but you may need the assistance of an experienced law office in your investigation. Even if your child is older or you as an adult still suffer the effects of birth trauma, you still may be able to bring legal action in some states like New Jersey.