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Birth Injuries

When Doctors & Nurses Make Mistakes During Labor or Delivery,
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The U.S. has one of the world's most advanced medical care systems. As technology and medicine advance, the rate of birth injuries and fatalities has declined, but they have not been eliminated. A birth injury is defined as an injury that occurs during the birthing process. Birth injuries occur in approximately 6-8 of every 1,000 births. With an average of 11,000 babies born in the U.S. each day, that amounts to 24,000 to 32,000 birth injuries every year. Birth injuries are sometimes unavoidable but may occur due to mistakes made by the delivering physician or nurse. In cases of medical malpractice, the parents may be entitled to bring a suit.

Some common examples of birth injuries include the following:

  • Brachial Palsy Injuries: The baby cannot flex or rotate its arms when brachial nerves are injured. This type of injury usually results from deliveries where the baby's shoulder gets stuck or caught.
  • Cerebral Palsy: Nerve damage most commonly causes cerebral palsy during pregnancy or traumatic childbirth. There is no cure, but those with cerebral palsy may benefit from lifelong therapy.
  • Bruising & Forceps Marks: If forceps or vacuum suction are used during delivery, it may cause temporary marks, bruising, or lacerations. In extreme cases, it may cause depressed skull fractures.
  • Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Bleeding beneath the eyes. Caused by broken blood vessels, the condition is harmless and will usually resolve independently.
  • Caput Succedaneum: Severe scalp swelling, most likely to occur with vacuum extraction.
  • Cephalohematoma: Bleeding between the bone and its fibrous covering; the affected bone is usually on the baby's head. This usually resolves within a few months, but the baby may develop jaundice.
  • Facial Paralysis: Pressure on the face during labor or birth, particularly in cases where forceps are used, may result in an injury to one or more of the baby's facial nerves.
  • Fractured Bones: The most common fracture incurred during birth is the collarbone. This injury usually results from difficult births or breech deliveries.
  • Brain Injury: During birth, the baby may be deprived of oxygen due to blood loss, compression, or entanglement of the umbilical cord. If the baby's oxygen is cut off for too long, brain damage may occur, potentially resulting in the development of seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, and more.

Birth Defects vs. Preventable Birth Injuries

When it comes to newborn children and defects, it is crucial to understand the difference between natural congenital disabilities and birth injuries that could have been entirely preventable had it not been for the negligence of a professional during your pregnancy or birthing process. A birth defect is something that occurs before a baby is born. Often, they begin developing when the child's organs are forming.

There are a wide variety of causes that can lead to the defects of a newborn baby, such as:

  • Mothers with specific medical conditions
  • Mothers who deal with diabetes and obesity
  • Mothers with a history of smoking, drinking, or using drugs

On the other hand, a birth injury usually occurs during the mother's pregnancy—hurting the mother, the baby, or both. It can also take place during the birthing process or afterward. These preventable birth injuries can be extremely minor in many situations, and the child will recover quickly. In other situations, specific birth injuries can lead to severe suffering, life-altering illnesses, and disabilities; at times, even death. Countless different situations can cause these injuries. However, it is often a direct result of the negligence or substandard care of the medical professional or healthcare provider during the pregnancy or birth.

Important Birth Injury Terms to Know

  • Bilirubin
    This is a colored substance formed when a baby's red blood cells break down. High levels are associated with jaundice.
  • Jaundice
    High levels of bilirubin in the blood can cause jaundice. Common indicators of jaundice are yellow tinting of the skin and yellow in the portion of the eye that is typically white.
  • Dystocia
    This word is commonly used in the medical field to describe a difficult birth.
  • Antigen
    An antigen is a substance that a body produces to produce more antibodies. Antibodies will fight off infection. An antigen is what determines blood type (A, B, AB, or O).
  • Induced Labor
    When childbirth becomes difficult, prolonged, or the mother becomes too weak, a doctor may induce a woman's labor. This can be done in several different ways, such as by medication.
  • Cesarean Section
    This surgical procedure is performed on women who could not give birth safely vaginally. In this operation, a surgeon will make an incision in the abdomen to extract the infant through the uterus.

Brachial Plexus Injury

The brachial plexus is a nerve cluster in the spine that controls information to the arm down to the fingers. It governs mobility and sensation. When it is damaged during development, it can cause brachial plexus palsy. Brachial plexus injuries can cause a child never to develop control over their hand or are or experience a permanent lack of sensation. At Arnold & Itkin, our Houston injury lawyers are dedicated to protecting the rights of infants and their families. If your baby was harmed due to medical malpractice, call now.

Symptoms & Causes of Brachial Plexus Injury in Newborns

Brachial plexus injuries, such as Erb’s palsy, have many causes—but are most often sustained during childbirth. An injury may happen when the shoulders of the infant cannot readily pass through the birth canal. Many brachial plexus injuries are caused by stretching the nerves discussed above. While minor injuries will heal on their own with rest and some therapy, other injuries might require surgical repair.

Signs an infant may have a brachial plexus injury include the following:

  • An arm bent at the elbow and held limply at the side of the body
  • The inability of the affected hand to grip things
  • Partial or complete paralysis of the arm
  • Loss of sensory function of the affected upper arm
  • Loss of motor function of the affected upper arm
  • Numbness in the affected arm
  • Impairment of circulatory, muscular, and nervous development

The most common cause of a brachial plexus injury is a difficult delivery. In these situations, the infant's head and neck can become hyper-extended when passing through the birth canal in a head-first delivery.

Other potential causes of a brachial plexus injury include:

  • A breech (feet first) delivery
  • Above-average infant size
  • Infant's shoulder lodged in the pelvic area
  • Underdeveloped neck muscles in infant
  • A prolonged second labor stage
  • Maternal diabetes or obesity
  • Delivery tools such as forceps or vacuums

The Moro Reflex Test

Doctors will typically use the "Moro reflex test" to uncover any abnormal muscle or nerve function. If a newborn suffers a traumatic birth, doctors will likely monitor that child and conduct frequent Moro reflex tests until the child is three or four months old. If the stimulation does not produce any involuntary responses, this could indicate spinal cord or brachial plexus damage. Traumatic births are common and can result from natural causes such as the mother's health or the size and position of the child while it is in the womb. In other cases, a brachial plexus injury might result from a doctor's negligence.

How Can Brachial Plexus Damage Be a Result of Malpractice?

Lack of preparation for known risks is often the underlying root cause of medical malpractice. Many of the factors contributing to brachial plexus palsy (e.g., gestational diabetes and maternal obesity) are known well before delivery day, which means obstetricians can and should take precautions accordingly. Even in breech birth cases, doctors have the tools and training to deliver babies without causing injury. Any injury resulting from these situations is more often than not due to a provider's failure to take proper care.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a term for disorders that affect neurological motor functions. The word "cerebral" comes from the word "cerebrum," referring to the function of the brain. The latter word "palsy" refers to a movement disorder, not confused with total paralysis like quadriplegia. Those movement disorders include muscle spasms, learning disabilities, and hearing disabilities. Cerebral palsy is sometimes the result of birth injury and is preventable in some cases. While cerebral palsy can have natural causes, there are situations in which a doctor or nurse's negligence causes cerebral palsy to develop. Even if your child does not show symptoms until two years of age, the cause may be a negligent decision made during or shortly after delivery.

The Four Types of Cerebral Palsy

The forms of cerebral palsy are:

  • The most common form of cerebral palsy is spastic cerebral palsy, making up 80% of all individuals with this condition. The damage that these individuals sustain causes the spinal nerves to be deficient in gamma-Aminobutyric acid. Without it, the individual develops hypertonia of the muscles. The most common side effect of spastic cerebral palsy is muscle spasms, managed with physical therapy.
  • Athetoid or dyskinetic cerebral palsy is a mix of both hypertonia and hypotonia. These individuals have difficulty holding themselves in a steady position.
  • Hypotonic cerebral palsy results in diminished muscle tone that causes a rag doll-like appearance.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy is the rarest manifestation, appearing in only 5-10% of cases. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy often have oral problems in addition to a lack of coordination. Children often have a wider gait when walking and have trouble making quick, repetitive motions.

What Causes Newborns to Develop Cerebral Palsy?

There are many potential causes of cerebral palsy. Babies most at risk of developing cerebral palsy are those born prematurely. Traumatic births are another major cause of cerebral palsy, as they can result in injury to the child's head or brain. Trauma during birth or premature birth can also result in jaundice; when jaundice lasts for longer-than-normal periods, it may contribute to cerebral palsy. Finally, cerebral palsy can sometimes be tied to dangerous pharmaceutical drugs that mothers take during pregnancy.

Recognizing Signs of Cerebral Palsy

While a child is still in its developmental stages, it is imperative to monitor their growth closely. If the infant underwent a traumatic birth, it would be good to make regular doctor visits to diagnose cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Walking or crawling abnormally
  • Poor reflexes
  • Tightened or contracted joints
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vision problems

Craniosynostosis

Sutures are the connections separating individual skull bones as a baby develops. Sutures fuse and turn to bone as a brain stops growing. The intersection of these sutures creates the baby's fontanelles, or "soft spots."

The sutures are the intersections between the five skull plates:

  • The two frontal bones
  • The two parietal bones
  • The occipital bone

Craniosynostosis causes sutures to close earlier than they should. When one of the sutures closes too early, it leads to an abnormally shaped skull. This can cause excruciatingly painful intracranial pressure.

Causes of Craniosynostosis

Craniosynostosis can be caused by various factors, including genetic, environmental, and biomechanical. If your child is suffering from craniosynostosis, it may be because of a drug that you took while pregnant.

Among the medications that are listed as risks for craniosynostosis are:

  • Lexapro
  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa

One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that using SSRIs during pregnancy was linked with craniosynostosis. Another study shows Clomid increased the risk of craniosynostosis by 80%. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver showed a distinctive link between this disease and first-trimester exposure to SSRIs. The risk in these events was twice the amount as it was in mothers who did not take SSRIs.

What Are Some Symptoms of Craniosynostosis?

In some cases, craniosynostosis is recognized and diagnosed at birth. In others, it is observed within the first year of a child's life. The most recognizable symptoms affect the shape of the head and face. One side of the face may look very different than the other or the head may appear misshapen.

In addition to face and head shape, other signs of craniosynostosis include:

  • Bulging fontanelle, the soft spot on the top of an infant's head
  • Prominent veins in the scalp
  • Increased head circumference
  • Developmental delays
  • Increased sleepiness and lack of awareness
  • Irritability and high-pitched crying
  • Feeding difficulties and projectile vomiting

If you suspect your child has craniosynostosis, talk to your pediatrician. An early diagnosis and treatment plan are essential to protect your child's developing brain and give them the best opportunity to face a bright future.

Effects of Craniosynostosis

If your child has craniosynostosis, they will likely have an improperly functioning brain. The brain becomes constricted when the sutures close too early, restricting growth that eventually affects development.

Craniosynostosis can also result in the following:

  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive issues

To compensate for a closed seam, the brain will often grow parallel. Many of the above issues depend on which suture closes in your baby's skull, thus dictating which part of the brain's growth will be restricted.

When Treatment Is Necessary

Craniosynostosis occurs in about 1 of every 2,200 live births. Depending on the type of craniosynostosis and its severity, this condition may be treated in various ways. When only one suture is affected by this illness, it may only require helmet therapy, which allows the skull to grow to accommodate the baby's developing brain. In these cases, abnormalities may eventually diminish with time. When the child develops more hair, the shape of their skull may seem to disappear. However, in severe cases, infants will need to undergo almost immediate surgery to relieve cranial pressure and make sure that there is room for the brain to grow and develop.

Do I Need an Attorney If My Child Has Been Diagnosed with Craniosynostosis?

After a craniosynostosis diagnosis, it's crucial to determine what may have caused your child's condition. While some cases are traced to genetic disorders, several studies have linked SSRI use during pregnancy to craniosynostosis. If you took SSRIs during pregnancy or had a difficult labor and delivery, an attorney can talk to you about what role these may have played in your child's condition. You may have grounds for a lawsuit that would allow you to pursue compensation for your child's care—giving you the invaluable opportunity to provide for their every need. There's no risk and so much to gain by talking to a craniosynostosis lawyer at our firm.

The Lifetime Costs of a Birth Injury

While some birth injuries may come with a short recovery period, some babies harmed by a birth injury may spend their entire life dealing with the results of the doctor or nurse's mistake. This is why you need to recover compensation that can cover your child's future expenses of medical care. You should look at the different expenses that will become a part of your life and factor these future costs into your lawsuit.

Consider the potential for long-term medical care:

  • Will your child need subsequent surgeries?
  • Will your child need continuous doctor's appointments or periods of hospitalization?
  • Will your child need to take expensive medications for years into the future?

Some other considerations:

  • You will want to look at the potential for physical, vocational, psychological, speech, and occupational therapies. These treatments can often help individuals gain a better outlook for their life.
  • If your young one is disabled, you may need to hire a nurse to care for them for years to come. As your child transfers into adulthood, you may choose to pay a nurse to give your child full-time care so you can continue at your job, and your child will have some degree of independence from their parents.
  • Your loved one may also need adaptive devices. Will your child need a motorized wheelchair, an artificial limb, or expensive braces? If so, then you need to include these expenses in your lawsuit.
  • You will want to factor in the expense of hiring handicap-accessible vans to pick up and transport your child. Many disabled individuals have to hire a van service to pick them up and drop them off.
  • Finally, you need to consider if you need to make changes to your home to make it wheelchair accessible or easier for your child to navigate.

Birth Injury FAQ

What causes birth injuries?

Many different things can cause birth injuries. One common cause is mechanical instruments such as vacuums, scalpels, or forceps. These instruments are often used during the delivery process and can lead to lacerations or abrasions if the surgeon does not use proper care. Depending on the size of the laceration or abrasion, the baby could require stitches to close the wound. Additionally, the wound could become infected, which can be a severe danger to a young baby with an underdeveloped immune system.

How do I know if malpractice was involved?

Medical malpractice may have occurred if a doctor:

  • Fails to respond to bleeding
  • Fails to observe and respond to fetal distress
  • Delays a necessary cesarean section
  • Inappropriately administers drugs during labor
  • Provides any other form of inadequate or poor caring during labor, delivery, or aftermath
  • Fails to anticipate birth complications related to the baby's size or the mother's health

What are the effects of birth injuries?

Birth injuries can have severe and life-altering effects for both the child and the parents. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, the baby could require lifelong medical care that can put the family in devastating economic hardship. In addition to the physical challenges, children often face emotional and cognitive challenges.

Do Not Hesitate to Contact Us for a Free Case Evaluation: (888) 493-1629

Many factors may contribute to a birth injury, including the baby's size, mother's anatomy, prolonged labor, and the baby's position. If you or a loved one has been affected by a birth injury, and you suspect medical malpractice was involved, you may be entitled to compensation. A birth injury lawyer at our firm can help you pursue justice for your baby's pain. If you would like to take the first step in your case, contact us for a free consultation.

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