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Causes & Types of Birth Injuries

Many birth defects, birth injuries, and birth trauma can be prevented if mother and child are carefully monitored during pregnancy, labor and delivery. When the failure to exercise proper care results in injury to mother or child, the doctor, nurse, or other responsible health care professional may be liable for medical malpractice.

Common Causes of Birth Injury Malpractice

Large Baby – By monitoring the mother for maternal diabetes and performing ultrasounds of the developing fetus, doctors can determine whether the pregnancy involves a large baby, which increases the risk of birth trauma and requires a different level of care and attention than other pregnancies. Failure to monitor can cause unnecessary complications.

Long Pregnancy – A pregnancy that lasts longer than usual, or a long period of labor, both raise the risk of birth trauma. Inducing labor through Pitocin, or the use of an epidural, can also increase the chances of birth injury. A nurse’s failure to notify the obstetrician of a long labor, or the improper administration of Pitocin or an epidural, may be malpractice.

C-Section – A cesarean birth may be necessary for the health of the baby or even to save the life of the mother. Common reasons to perform a cesarean include fetal bleeding, placenta previa (placenta covers or blocks the cervix), or placental abruption (separation of placenta from uterus). A large baby may also be an indication that a vaginal birth is not recommended. The decision to perform a contraindicated vaginal birth, or delay in performing a c-section, can be malpractice, with liability for any resulting injuries.

Common Types of Birth Injuries

  • Cerebral Palsy – a lack of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia, anoxia) during labor can cause any number of cognitive, sensory, and motor disorders.
  • Shoulder Dystocia – stress or trauma to the infant’s shoulders during delivery can cause this condition, also known as Erb’s palsy, Klumpke’s palsy, or brachial plexus injury. If too much pressure is applied to the shoulders or if they are impacted on the mother’s pubic bone, the peripheral nerves can stretch or tear, causing permanent paralysis in the hands and arms.
  • Clavicle Fracture – the child’s clavicle (collarbone) may break during a difficult vaginal delivery if care is not taken.
  • Facial Paralysis – improper use of forceps or other mishandling during delivery can put pressure on the facial nerve (the seventh cranial nerve), causing permanent paralysis.
  • Peritonitis or Pneumonitis – if the delivery is stressful or takes too long, the fetus may respond with a bowel movement in the womb. This can cause meconium to leak into the amniotic sac and from there enter the fetus’ respiratory system.
  • Brain Damage – a prolonged lack of oxygen can cause brain injury, which can result if the umbilical cord is wrapped around the infant’s neck or if the baby is inside the birth canal too long, among other factors.
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