Birth injury describes any injury occurring to the baby or mother immediately before, during, and after the birth process. Also referred to as neonatal birth trauma, birth injuries can range from minor bruising caused by the pressure of the birth canal to serious birth injuries that have life-long effects.
While the birthing process usually occurs without causing injury, birth injuries in newborns occasionally happen. Whether a baby has a promising birth injury prognosis or the injury is predicted to cause lifelong issues, justice should be sought if the injury occurred due to negligence on the part of a care provider.
In addition, medical bills can take a toll on your family’s current financial situation and present future issues if the condition is ongoing. For that reason, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek compensation for medical expenses accumulated due to a preventable birth injury.
Contact a Lawyer If You or Your Baby Experienced a Birth Injury
The National Vital Statistics Report reveals that approximately 1.9 out of 1,000 children experience a birth injury. The birth trauma rate has fallen over the past few decades due to medical advancements, but the risk of physical injury during birth still exists.
If your child sustained physical injuries during birth, contacting a birth injury attorney can help determine if you have grounds to take legal action against the doctor or doctors at fault for their birth injury. Serious birth injuries can have a devastating impact on the child’s life and place the family’s finances under significant strain.
Birth injury caused by an error or negligence on the part of the attending medical practitioners should be compensated fairly. A skilled attorney will help you determine the strength of your case and how to proceed.
Common Birth Injuries
Bruises and Swelling
Most birth injuries are minor and heal within a few weeks of birth, such as bruising or swelling on the baby’s head from traveling through the birth canal or the pressure caused by the mother’s pelvic bones. These birth injuries are considered naturally occurring and rarely cause severe or lasting damage to the newborn.
Subconjunctival hemorrhage, the medical term for when small blood vessels in the infant’s eyes break, commonly ensues during birth. This injury occurs when pressure on the infant’s head is so great that ocular blood vessels rupture.
When medical practitioners use forceps or a vacuum to assist the baby’s exit during birth, there is a greater risk of facial birth injuries. If an injury occurs while the baby is being forcibly removed from the birth canal by a doctor, the injury could range from harmless bruising to more severe issues such as nerve damage.
Cerebral palsy occurs when there is damage or abnormalities in the area of the brain that controls movement. Risk factors for cerebral palsy include genetic and environmental factors, but a traumatic birth injury is one of the most frequently seen causes of cerebral palsy. Premature infants are at increased risk of developing cerebral palsy if a birth trauma occurs.
Fetal brain injuries occurring before, during, or after birth can cause intracranial hemorrhage or a brain bleed between the brain tissue and the skull or inside the brain tissue. Sometimes the intracranial hemorrhage causes blood to pool on top of the brain tissue. When that happens, newborn cephalohematoma occurs, potentially causing cerebral palsy if healthcare providers do not take immediate action.
Did a Medical Error Cause Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy?
When birth trauma occurs due to medical error, and the baby suffers compromised blood flow through the umbilical cord, they can also develop cerebral palsy. If your child has cerebral palsy due to a birth injury, contacting a lawyer should be your next move.
Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding your labor and delivery, you may be eligible for compensation for medical bills. Since cerebral palsy will affect your child throughout their life and could require expensive medical treatment and care services like physical therapy, it’s worth scheduling a consultation with a skilled attorney to see if you have a case worth pursuing.
Intrauterine Fetal Demise
Intrauterine fetal demise (fetal death in utero) occurs when an unborn child dies in the womb at 20 weeks or afterward. Also referred to as a stillbirth, this birth injury is understandably traumatic for the mother and other people who would have played a pivotal role in the child’s life.
Fetal death in utero is not the same thing as a miscarriage. Miscarriages are the death of a nonviable fetus before a gestational age of 20 weeks, while fetal death in utero is the death of a fetus that could have been viable with medical care.
Possible risk factors include pregnancies lasting longer than 40 weeks, placental dysfunction, maternal obesity, obstruction of umbilical cord blood flow, and genetic disorders. If a misdiagnosed or undiagnosed medical issue caused you to experience fetal death in utero, you might have a case against the provider responsible for your care.
Facial Nerve Injury and Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy
During childbirth, it is easy for a baby to suffer nerve damage. Even an uncomplicated vaginal birth can place enormous stress on the baby’s body, as it is being exposed to high amounts of pressure during delivery.
Facial nerve damage is a common birth injury. While a facial nerve injury is often temporary, it frequently scares new parents, as nerve damage can cause short-term facial paralysis.
Another common form of nerve damage that can happen during birth is brachial plexus nerve damage which may result in a loss of movement in the baby’s shoulder. A brachial plexus injury typically occurs when the baby’s shoulder has trouble passing through the birth canal in a condition called shoulder dystocia. Most birth injuries to the brachial plexus resolve without long-term complications.
Brain damage from a birth injury often happens because the baby was deprived of oxygen during the birthing process. For example, placental abruption, low oxygen levels in the mother during birth, cord complications, and infections in the baby or mother can all cause asphyxia (oxygen deprivation) that leaves a baby suffering from a brain injury.
Immediate treatment may mitigate some damage, but unfortunately, the consequences of brain damage during birth can impact a child for life. If you believe your healthcare providers behaved in a way that caused your baby to experience a brain injury or failed to identify or address the injury, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit.
A consultation with an experienced birth injury lawyer will allow you to share the details of your situation with a professional. They can advise you on the merits of pursuing compensation and help you file a lawsuit if necessary.
Umbilical Cord Compression
Inside the umbilical cord are blood vessels filled with carbon dioxide and oxygenated blood. The cord provides your baby with blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
Sometimes during labor, the cord may be compressed and cause short drops in fetal heart rate. Most cord compressions are mild and resolved without issue, but sometimes the cord compression continues for an extended time, resulting in more severe adverse effects.
What Causes Birth Injuries in Newborns?
Injury to the baby during birth can be caused by any number of incidents before, during, and after the birth. Being aware of the risk factors contributing to neonatal birth trauma can help you identify a physical injury to your baby quickly following delivery, as you’ll know what signs of damage to look for after birth and during the first few weeks.
Although there are numerous reasons why infants might experience birth trauma, ranging from the shape of the mother’s pelvis preventing a typical vaginal delivery to medical professionals failing to identify bleeding disorders in newborn babies, a few causes are more commonly seen than others.
Preventable errors that happen during childbirth and result in a birth injury may be considered medical malpractice. When you entrust healthcare professionals to deliver your baby, you want them to provide you with the expected standard of care.
If a careless action during birth or failure to perform due diligence before delivery caused your child to experience an injury, you might have grounds for a medical malpractice case. The result of medical negligence and malpractice during birth can be catastrophic.
If an injury occurs due to a doctor misusing forceps or removing your baby from the birth canal too roughly, your child could suffer from a spinal cord injury or a brain injury. Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit allows you to hold the people responsible for your baby’s injuries accountable and may result in you being compensated for the money your child’s medical bills cost you.
Use of Forceps
While forceps are not used as frequently as they once were, there are still occasions where a doctor may opt to use forceps to help the baby exit the birth canal. When used carefully during the final stage of delivery, forceps cause minimal or no damage.
However, when doctors use forceps to pull a baby from a high position in the birth canal or use the tool roughly, there is a risk of spinal cord injury and other serious injuries. Gripping a baby’s head too firmly can cause bruising and broken blood vessels. In rare cases, brain damage can occur if the pressure from the forceps causes intracranial swelling.
When labor takes an extended amount of time, there is an increased chance of birth injuries. Labor lasting over 18 hours is considered delayed birth. Delayed birth can place pressure on an infant’s brain, potentially causing fetal distress and elevated blood pressure.
Difficulty Passing Through the Birth Canal
Birth is a strenuous process for mother and child. Birth trauma can occur simply due to the strain of experiencing birth.
Risk factors for a difficult delivery include very large babies or babies positioned abnormally. If a doctor believes that vaginal delivery will be risky due to the baby’s size or positioning, they may recommend a cesarean delivery, colloquially referred to as a c-section, as a form of birth injury prevention.
Various birth injuries are caused or exacerbated by oxygen deprivation. Premature infants with underdeveloped lungs and those with umbilical cord impingement may experience oxygen deprivation. Being deprived of oxygen can leave infants with brain damage that can cause long-term cognitive difficulties.
Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries
Some birth injuries are easy to diagnose at birth, while others are more challenging to identify. For example, babies born with blue or pale skin and low heart rates may have suffered from oxygen deprivation and had their umbilical cord blood flow compromised during labor and delivery.
Failure to show normal neonatal reflexes, such as responding to loud noises, could signify that the baby suffers from a head injury or brain damage. Some other signs that may be apparent after delivery include the following:
Floppy or rigid muscles
Sharp, loud crying
However, it’s important to remember that a child’s prognosis after birth may change. Contacting a birth injury attorney as soon as you suspect something went amiss during childbirth will ensure your rights are protected and that you’re prepared to seek compensation for your child’s injuries if negligent medical practitioners caused them.
Identifying Birth Trauma Later in Life
Sometimes babies suffer birth injuries that don’t show up immediately. A child’s birth injury diagnosis doesn’t always happen right away, and it may be a few weeks or a few years before their condition is diagnosed and they can receive birth injury treatment.
Some instances of identifying birth injuries after the birth are spinal cord injuries that aren’t discovered until a post-birth check-up or conditions such as cerebral palsy that may not be noticeable until the child begins developing motor skills. If the mother didn’t feel like she had a difficult delivery, she might not realize her infant was injured, especially if healthcare providers glossed over minor injuries.
Some birth injury symptoms that may appear later in life could be misdiagnosed as other conditions. A child displaying these symptoms could be suffering from a birth injury that happened during a difficult delivery:
Difficulty understanding concepts
Inability to meet developmental milestones
Lack of organizational and sequencing skills
Inability to concentrate
What Are the Costs of Caring For a Child With a Birth Injury?
Raising a child is costly when all goes as planned, but expenses can skyrocket when your child suffers from a birth injury such as brain damage caused by a compressed umbilical cord. Birth injuries can quickly cause medical bills to pile up. While the immediate costs of treating a severe injury may overwhelm you, the long-term expenses can be even more staggering.
The amount a birth injury will cost over a child’s lifetime will vary based on numerous factors. This unpredictability poses a challenge for parents since they can’t predict future medical treatment and care costs because they don’t know how their child’s condition may change as they age.
While many birth injuries don’t cause debilitating injuries, some do. A severely injured child, such as one left with a brain injury or spinal cord injury following birth, will likely need special care during their childhood and possibly into adulthood. This care is often expensive and can strain the family financially.
What Will a Birth Injury Lawyer Do to Help Me?
Care providers should be held responsible for preventable birth injuries, including compensating parents for the medical costs accrued by the baby’s injury. The first step toward seeking justice if a medical professional’s negligence resulted in your infant being injured is contacting an attorney with extensive experience handling birth injury cases.
Discussing your case with a legal professional will enable you to determine if you can file a successful claim against the doctor or hospital. Your lawyer will explain any legal options available to you and help you pursue compensation if that’s the right move for your situation.
Determine Who Is Responsible For the Birth Injury
It can be challenging to know what exactly caused your child’s birth injury and who is responsible for it. When the medical crisis happened, you might have been in a heightened emotional state that caused you to overlook things you would have noticed in calmer conditions.
The situation surrounding the injury will often be confusing, and you may find that the doctors and nurses aren’t forthcoming with information. No medical professional will want to admit that they made a mistake or failed to diagnose an issue that resulted in an injury to your baby.
Your attorney will investigate the injury on your behalf and review your and your child’s medical records. They will determine who and what caused the birth injury and evaluate the situation through the lens of their legal experience.
Prove a Birth Injury Claim
After your lawyer has determined who is responsible for the injury, referred to as the defendant, their next move will be to prove the validity of your birth injury claim. In order to do this, they will have to show evidence supporting the following:
The defendant owed you and your baby a duty of care
The defendant behaved negligently and breached this duty
Through action or failure to act, the defendant caused the injury
You or your baby experienced an injury as a result
Your lawyer will prove these basic requirements for a birth injury claim by collecting evidence, consulting with medical experts, interviewing witnesses, and proving a doctor-patient relationship existed between you and the defendant or the defendant and your baby. They will also have to demonstrate how your doctor strayed from the expected standard of care.
Pursue Reimbursement For Past Medical Bills
If there is evidence that a medical professional’s error caused your baby harm, your attorney will seek compensation for the expenses accrued by the injury. Healthcare providers should have insurance that covers claims brought against them, which means your attorney will likely be dealing with the insurance company for you if a claim is filed. Should your case evolve into a lawsuit, your attorney can represent you in court.
Seek Compensation For Future Care Needs
Depending on the extent of your child’s injury, they may require medical treatments, specialized care, or medical devices throughout their life. Since it is impossible to precisely determine how a child’s birth injury will impact them long-term, receiving compensation for future care costs can be challenging.
However, if your attorney can prove that certain costs resulting from the injury will continue throughout your child’s life, they can request compensation for these expenses. If your child’s injury unquestionably prevents them from living independently or making an income as an adult, your attorney will try to secure compensation to account for that.
Birth Defects vs. Birth Injuries
The terms birth defects and birth injuries may seem interchangeable, but there’s a distinct difference between birth injuries and defects. However, a healthcare provider’s irresponsible or negligent behavior can cause both defects and injuries.
Understanding the difference between the two terms ensures you can explain your situation clearly to your attorney if you seek legal counsel. You’ll also be able to more effectively advocate for your child’s needs if you use the correct terminology when interacting with medical practitioners.
A birth defect is a structural abnormality present at birth that can affect nearly any part of your baby’s body. Birth defects typically develop during the first trimester and range from mild to life-threatening.
Family medical history of defects, maternal drug use, and unaddressed infections increase the fetus’s chance of developing a birth defect. Although the healthcare provider and the child’s parents may not be aware that the child has a birth defect until after the birth, the defect develops before delivery.
Birth Defect frequency
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that birth defects impact approximately 3% of all babies born in the U.S. Every four and a half minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect, which means nearly 120,000 babies each year are born with defects.
Birth defects cause 20% of infant deaths, making them the leading cause of infant mortality. In addition, one out of 4,647 babies will have a birth defect affecting their spine and brain. Early medical intervention is crucial to helping ensure the best possible outcome.
Keep in mind there are certain situations where you may want to contact a lawyer if your baby is born with a birth defect. Like birth injuries, birth defects are different for each child, and it can be challenging to predict how they will impact a child as they age.
One example of a birth defect you might be able to receive compensation for would be if your baby were born with a birth defect because a doctor failed to diagnose you with an infection during your pregnancy. Another would be if your primary care physician prescribed you medication or performed a test on you that increased your baby’s risk without informing you of the dangers.
Birth defects can range in severity from mild to life-altering, and the long-term effects of the defect and the cause will affect your ability to pursue compensation. When in doubt, it’s wise to schedule a consultation with a lawyer to discuss your situation and see what legal options may apply to you.
Birth injuries occur when a trauma injures the baby or mother and takes place during labor and delivery or before it. Injury to the baby can occur even when both the mother and baby are healthy, and the delivery proceeds normally.
Most birth injuries are caused by the natural labor and delivery process and resolve within a few weeks of birth, like bruising and brachial plexus injuries. However, there is still potential for severe injuries, like babies born with spinal cord injuries or brain injuries, that will cause medical issues for their entire lives.
Birth injuries can also be caused by naturally occurring factors, such as the shape of the mother’s pelvis, causing brachial plexus injuries when the baby’s shoulder is caught during delivery (shoulder dystocia). Or they can be caused by medical error, such as spinal cord injuries from a careless doctor removing a baby too roughly from the birth canal using tools such as forceps or a vacuum.
Take Legal Action After a Birth Injury
Few things are more exciting than welcoming a new baby to the family. Thankfully, most births are completed safely, leaving mom and baby with minimal or no injuries. However, when birth injuries do take place, they can have devastating consequences on the child and their family.
If a doctor’s negligence causes a birth injury, your family may be able to receive compensation for medical care and other damages suffered. An experienced birth injury lawyer will evaluate your situation and establish whether your doctor provided you and your baby with the expected standard of care.
Don’t let the negligence of a medical professional cause your family to experience financial strain. Instead, contact Wendt Law Firm, P.C. at 816-542-6734 and let our team pursue the compensation you need following a birth injury.