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Medical Malpractice - Birth Injuries

When you give birth, you put your trust in healthcare providers to make sure that you and your child are safe. But it’s devastating when that trust is broken and a preventable birth injury that can have a lifelong impact on your child occurs.

Many babies suffer from minor injuries during delivery that do not require treatment and heal within a few days or weeks without intervention. However, there are some birth injuries that can cause severe and potentially lifelong complications and disabilities.

Medical negligence occurs when healthcare providers do not meet the standard of care required of them. Medical negligence during childbirth can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, including failing to diagnose an apparent health condition in the mother or baby, failure to monitor the mother or baby after childbirth, misuse of birthing tools such as forceps or vacuum extractor, or the use of unnecessary force during childbirth.

What Is a Birth Injury?

A birth injury is defined as “any type of injury that a baby suffers before, during, or directly after childbirth.” Birth injuries are the result of actions taken or not taken by healthcare providers and are preventable.

Types of Birth Injuries

  • Lack of oxygen during birth (hypoxia)

  • Errors using assisted delivery tools

  • Traumatic birth

  • Improper maneuvers performed when baby does not fit through birth canal

  • Errors handling fetal distress or failing to notice signs

  • Delayed c-section in emergency situation

  • Excessively long or difficult labor

  • Issues with umbilical cord

  • Improper use of labor-inducing drugs

  • Mismanagement of placenta problems

  • Uterine problem or ruptured uterus

  • Using excessive force ( usually cause brachial plexus injuries)

  • Shoulder dystocia

  • Developmental delays caused by lack of oxygen at birth

  • Newborn jaundice

  • Bone fractures

  • Infections

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Internal bleeding

  • Brachial plexus injuries (Erb’s palsy)

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Brain damage

Cerebral Palsy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cerebral palsy is caused by the abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain which can occur before birth, during birth, or during the child’s early brain development after birth. Approximately one to four per 1000 children worldwide have cerebral palsy, and one in every 345 children in the United States have cerebral palsy.

The brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy can cause the child to be unable to properly control their body and muscle movements. Cerebral palsy is the most common type of serious birth injury. The brain damage that can cause cerebral palsy usually occurs during childbirth when the supply of oxygen (hypoxia) to the baby’s brain is interrupted. When the oxygen supply is interrupted during childbirth, brain cells die within minutes which can cause cerebral palsy.

Oxygen deprivation can occur through C-section delays and head trauma. If an emergency C-section is not performed when it should be, the baby’s brain can become oxygen deprived and damaged. Head trauma during childbirth can occur during a vaginal delivery if the baby becomes stuck or has difficulty moving through the birth canal. In this case, doctors may use external instruments such as obstetrical forceps or vacuum extractors to deliver the baby. However, an excessive level of force with these instruments on the baby’s head can cause brain damage.

Other Causes of Cerebral Palsy:

  • Fetal monitoring errors or mismanaged fetal distress

  • Premature birth- especially when mismanaged

  • Placental issues

  • Prolonged and arrested labor

  • Umbilical cord problems

  • Uterine hyperstimulation/tachysystole (misuse of labor enhancing drugs)

  • Uterine rupture

The degree of harm depends on how long the baby was deprived of oxygen and which part of the brain was impacted. Mild or moderate cases of cerebral palsy may only cause a minor limp or awkward movements; however, severe cases of cerebral palsy can cause permanent disabilities and leave the child confined to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy Can Cause:

  • Seizures

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Vision issues

  • Hearing issues

  • Speech issues

  • Movement issues

Cerebral palsy can be difficult to diagnose, and formal diagnoses may not be made until months or even years after birth. Most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed after 10-12 months, but some are not diagnosed until 24 months old.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children Under 6 Months:

  • Not being able to lift or control head

  • Baby feels floppy (like a rag doll) when picked up

  • Stiff legs and arms

  • Abnormal back arching and neck stretching

  • Crossed or scissor legs caused by stiffness

  • Seizures

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children 6-10 Months:

  • Child cannot roll over on their own

  • Cannot bring hands together or hands to mouth

  • Child only uses one side of the body with stiffness or closed fist

  • Involuntary movements

  • Does not meet development milestones

  • Speech issues

  • Hearing issues

  • Vision issues

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms in Children 10 Months and Older:

  • Abnormal crawling (dragging to one side)

  • Drags butt or hops on knees instead of crawling

  • Limited range of motion

  • Poor motor skills

  • Slow development

  • Excessive drooling

Brain Damage

Delayed birth and oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) during birth can result in brain injuries. If a birth is delayed, pressure builds on the baby’s brain inside the womb. This compression can cause fetal distress and high blood pressure. These conditions can cause strokes and other cardiovascular problems. Oxygen deprivation during birth can be caused by a prolapsed umbilical cord or underdeveloped lungs. The majority of brain-related birth injuries are caused by oxygen deprivation.

Types of Brain Damage

There are many types of brain damage that can cause birth injuries, including:

  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)

  • Periventricular leukomalacia

  • Intracranial hemorrhage

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is the most common type of brain damage during childbirth and is caused by decreased blood and oxygen levels to the brain which destroys brain cells and tissue in the motor cortex. Brain cell death in the motor cortex can lead to cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, cognitive problems, damage to kidneys, liver, heart and other organs, and periventricular leukomalacia. The amount of long-term damage is dependent upon how long the brain lacked oxygen. A 2014 study by University of Cook showed that even in mild cases of HIE, children can experience developmental delays for several years and moderate to severe cases can cause permanent developmental delays. Developmental delays include speech delays, autism, attention-deficit disorder, and dyspraxia (reduced coordination). These can result in lower IQ scores, decreased processing speeds and poor memory.

Periventricular leukomalacia occurs when white matter in the brain dies, causing tissue death and small holes in the brain. White matter in the brain is made of nerve fibers that relay motor function signals. Destruction of white matter decreases the brain’s ability to learn and function. This type of brain damage is caused by a lack of blood to the periventricular part of the brain. Placental failure and infection are also causes. Periventricular leukomalacia can cause nervous system problems, developmental delays, difficulty crawling or moving arms, and learning issues.

An intracranial hemorrhage is bleeding in the brain. The most common cause of an intracranial hemorrhage is fetal stroke due to a blocked or damaged blood vessel(s). High blood pressure, placenta complications, and reproductive infections within the mother can also cause it. The tissue damage caused by the bleeding can result in neurological issues such as difficulty speaking, learning, or moving, epilepsy, or seizures.

Legal Elements of Birth Injury Medical Malpractice Cases

The following four elements must be proven to demonstrate the birth injury resulted from medical malpractice:

  1. Prove that a doctor-patient relationship occurred between the mother, baby, and healthcare provider. This establishes that the healthcare provider owed a duty of care to the mother and child.

  2. Prove the healthcare provider breached their duty of care by failing to act as a reasonably competent healthcare professional would have under similar circumstances.

  3. Prove that the healthcare provider’s breach of duty of care was the actual and proximate cause of the baby’s injuries.

  4. Prove that the injuries caused specific damages (physical, mental, emotional, economic).

How GoldenbergLaw Can Help

If your loved one was harmed in a birth injury, contact the Medical Malpractice Attorneys at GoldenbergLaw. Medical malpractice lawsuits require expertise and our team at GoldenbergLaw has more than 35 years of experience. Contact us today for a free consultation!


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