The miracle of birth, while being a momentous occasion marked by profound joy, also comes with a set of risks – one of which is the occurrence of birth injuries. These injuries, though unwelcome, are a reality that we must confront. They manifest as a spectrum of physical traumas sustained by a newborn during the tumultuous process of childbirth.

Birth injuries can range from minor bruises that heal quickly to more severe, life-altering conditions such as cerebral palsy. These outcomes are as diverse as they are complex, affecting different parts of the body and with varying degrees of impact on the child’s future development.

It’s essential to recognize that not all birth injuries are unavoidable consequences of childbirth. In some cases, they may stem from medical negligence. Therefore, a comprehension of birth injuries also empowers parents to differentiate between natural and avoidable outcomes. If required, this knowledge enables them to seek legal recourse, holding those responsible accountable for their actions.

Types of Birth Injuries

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a collective term used to describe a range of permanent movement disorders resulting from damage to a developing brain. It can result from various causes, such as oxygen deprivation during birth, physical trauma during delivery, infections in the mother during pregnancy, or genetic factors (Mayo Clinic, 2021). The tell-tale signs include impaired muscle coordination, developmental delays, and difficulty with motor skills. A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada (2019) highlights the devastating impact of cerebral palsy caused by avoidable birth injuries.

Erb’s palsy is a condition resulting from damage to the brachial plexus nerves, manifesting as paralysis or weakness in the affected arm. Often, it occurs due to excessive force applied during delivery, shoulder dystocia, or improper use of delivery tools like forceps (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2021). The symptoms are identifiable by limited mobility, lack of muscle control, and weakness in the affected arm. A study in the American Journal of Perinatology (2017) reiterates the role of medical malpractice in cases of Erb’s palsy.

Facial nerve damage during childbirth refers to injuries or compression to the facial nerve, typically occurring due to pressure on the baby’s face during delivery or incorrect use of forceps or vacuum extraction. The aftermath is often apparent in facial asymmetry, weakened or paralyzed facial muscles, and difficulty closing the eye on the affected side. A 2019 report in Pediatric Neurology highlights how severe cases can affect a child’s self-esteem and social interactions.

Fractures and bone injuries in newborns are instances where a baby’s bones break or fracture during the delivery process. These injuries can occur due to difficult or prolonged delivery, improper use of birth-assisting tools, or excessive pressure on the infant. The types of fractures can include collarbone (clavicle) fractures, skull fractures, and fractures to long bones such as the femur. An article in the Journal of Pediatrics (2020) details the long-term consequences of untreated fractures and the need for prompt medical attention.

Medical Malpractice as a Cause of Birth Injuries

Medical malpractice refers to a healthcare provider’s failure to meet the standard of care expected in their profession, resulting in harm to a patient. When it comes to childbirth, medical malpractice can have severe consequences, leading to different types of birth injuries. Understanding how medical malpractice can lead to these injuries is crucial for prevention, intervention, and in some cases, seeking justice.

  • Improper Use of Medical Tools:
    • The inappropriate use of birth-assisting tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors can lead to birth injuries. Forceps, when used incorrectly, can cause skull fractures or facial nerve damage. Improper vacuum extraction can lead to scalp injuries, skull fractures, or even brain hemorrhages. These tools are meant to assist in difficult deliveries, but if they are not used with care and precision, they can lead to harmful, even fatal, outcomes.
  • Failure to Respond to Fetal Distress:
    • During labor, the medical team monitors the baby’s heart rate for any signs of fetal distress. If the baby’s heart rate is too slow or too fast, it might suggest that the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. This situation demands immediate intervention, which can range from changing the mother’s position to performing an emergency C-section. Failure to act promptly can result in injuries like cerebral palsy due to oxygen deprivation.
  • Neglecting to Perform a Timely Cesarean Section:
    • There are several instances when a Cesarean section (C-section) might be necessary for the baby’s and mother’s safety. These include prolonged labor, fetal distress, or situations where the baby is in the breech position. If a healthcare provider fails to recognize these signs or delays the decision for a C-section, it can lead to birth injuries such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy due to prolonged oxygen deprivation.
  • Mistreatment of Premature Birth:
    • Premature babies are at an increased risk of complications and need special care. Medical negligence in managing a premature birth can lead to birth injuries. For instance, if a healthcare provider fails to administer steroids to the mother in preterm labor to aid the baby’s lung development, the baby might suffer from respiratory distress syndrome, a potentially severe condition.
  • Mismanagement of Shoulder Dystocia:
    • Shoulder dystocia occurs when, after the delivery of the baby’s head, the baby’s anterior shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone. It requires skilled maneuvers to release the baby without causing harm. If not appropriately managed, it can lead to injuries like Erb’s Palsy or even fractures to the baby’s clavicle or humerus.

While not all birth injuries are due to medical malpractice, understanding how these preventable errors can cause harm is crucial. It highlights the importance of vigilant and responsive medical care during childbirth and reinforces the need for parents to seek legal support if they suspect medical malpractice.

Craig Swapp & Associates, Trusted Seattle Injury Attorneys

Birth injuries are not just medical terms or isolated incidents, but life-changing events that can cast a long shadow over the future of a child and their family. If you, as a parent, find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance where your child has experienced a birth injury, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Amidst the medical consultations and care routines, remember that the law stands with you, ready to ensure your rights, and those of your child, are protected.

Craig Swapp & Associates, respected Seattle injury attorneys with a solid track record in medical malpractice law, are your allies in this journey.  Their expertise allows them to carefully dissect your case, gather evidence, consult medical experts, and build a robust case to hold those responsible accountable. If your child has experienced a birth injury, and you suspect it may have been due to medical negligence, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Craig Swapp & Associates. Contact us to discuss your case and learn how we can help you secure justice.

Written By: Ryan Swapp     Legal Review By: Craig Swapp