What Birth Injuries Cause Brain Damage?
Healthy development of the brain is crucial for a baby’s growth and development. Unfortunately, the brain is extremely sensitive to damage.
An “insult” to the developing brain (such as an injury or illness) can lead to a wide range of complications and challenges that can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. Damage to the brain in early life may occur when the baby is still in the womb, during labour and delivery, and/or in the early stages of life.
Newborns and babies are at risk of brain damage from a wide variety of birth injuries. If you suspect that medical negligence harmed your child, it is in your best interest to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
Brain Damage Caused by Oxygen Deprivation
Cells in the brain need oxygen to survive. When the brain is deprived of oxygen (known as hypoxia when there is insufficient oxygen or anoxia when there is no oxygen reaching the brain), permanent brain damage may occur.
A multitude of serious complications may arise if a baby does not get enough oxygen. One of the most severe is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a birth injury that can lead to cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, and more.
Oxygen deprivation can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
Placental Abnormalities and Complications
During pregnancy, the placenta supplies the baby with oxygen and nutrients by way of the umbilical cord. Abnormal development of the placenta can result in bleeding that deprives the baby of oxygen. Placental abruption – a serious complication where the placenta detaches from the uterus prior to delivery – can result in massive blood loss for the mother and significant deprivation of oxygen for the baby.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition where the mother experiences a sudden increase in blood pressure. Without timely intervention, the flow of blood to the placenta – and, by extension, the baby – is interrupted, potentially resulting in brain damage.
Umbilical Cord Complications
When the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby’s neck during labour, it is known as a nuchal cord. If medical professionals fail to alleviate the nuchal cord and monitor the baby for signs of distress, the brain may be damaged through lack of oxygen.
Prolapse of the umbilical cord is another complication that can reduce the flow of oxygen to the baby during delivery. This complication arises when the umbilical cord becomes trapped between the baby and the inside of the birth canal. If the pressure on the umbilical cord is not relieved, the baby’s brain may be deprived of oxygen for a prolonged period of time.
Multiple issues can lead to labour that fails to progress, including:
- Abnormal presentation of the baby in the birth canal
- Insufficient contractions
- An overly large baby
- Significant difference between the size of the baby’s head and the mother’s pelvis (cephalopelvic disproportion)
OB/GYNs, nurses, midwives, and other medical professionals are responsible for monitoring the health of mother and baby and determining the course of potential intervention. Measures such as repositioning a baby in breech position, administering medications such as pitocin, or performing a cesarean section may be necessary.
The more prolonged the labour, the higher the risk of birth injuries (including brain damage from oxygen deprivation) to the baby.
Brain Damage Caused by Physical Trauma
Physical injury to the head is another potential cause of brain injury to newborns. These injuries often occur as a result of medical negligence – particularly the misuse of forceps and vacuum extraction devices.
In extreme cases, forceps and vacuum extractor injuries can fracture the skull and damage underlying structures in and around the brain. Potential complications affecting the brain that are associated with these injuries include:
Physical trauma to blood vessels in the brain can lead to bleeding (also known as hemorrhage). Uncontrolled bleeding in the brain can result in permanent damage.
Hematomas are another potential complication associated with birth-related head injuries. A hematoma occurs when blood pools inside the body. Two of the most common types of hematoma associated with injury to the head during delivery are:
- Subgaleal hematomas: The subgaleal space is an area between the outer layer of the skull (the periosteum) and the scalp. Subgaleal hematomas can lead to significant blood loss that puts the brain at risk.
- Cephalohematomas: Unlike a subgaleal hematoma, a cephalohematoma forms between the periosteum and the skull itself. As a result, the bleeding is much more contained and typically does not pose a threat to the brain.
Another condition known as caput succedaneum can arise when extreme pressure is applied to a baby’s head during childbirth. Caput succedaneum is characterized by swelling of the scalp. The injury is fairly minor on its own, but brain damage may occur if the condition leads to jaundice.
Jaundice – characterized outwardly by a pronounced yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes – is caused by a buildup of bilirubin inside the blood. Excess bilirubin can lead to a condition called kernicterus, which can in turn result in damage to the brain.
Severe head trauma during labour and delivery can cause cerebrospinal fluid to build up in spaces surrounding the brain. Known as hydrocephalus, this condition can lead to increased intracranial pressure that damages the brain.
Brain Damage Caused by Maternal Infections
A wide range of infections and illnesses can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, including:
- Group B streptococcus
- Rubella (formerly known as German measles)
- Urinary tract infections
- Cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex
- Chorioamnionitis (infection of the amniotic fluid)
If left untreated, maternal infections can cause a number of conditions that lead to brain damage, including encephalitis, periventricular leukomalacia (damage to a baby’s white matter prior to birth), meningitis, and more.
Medical professionals have a responsibility to screen expectant mothers for infections and provide prompt care. If they fail in this duty, patients and their families may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim.
Brain injuries are devastating at any age. However, when they impact someone in the earliest stages of life, the impact is even more pronounced.
Injuries to the head and brain at birth can lead to delays in your child’s development, intellectual and learning disabilities, movement disorders, seizures, blindness, and other serious complications. All of these issues are expensive to treat, often requiring a lifetime of specialized care.
You and your family should not have to face these burdens by yourself if a negligent medical professional harmed your child. Klein Lawyers can delve into the potential errors during labour and delivery to determine if you have grounds for a birth injury claim. We will fight hard for the maximum compensation you and your loved ones deserve.
Please call Klein Lawyers at (604) 874-7171 today for a free case evaluation. Our birth injury lawyers serve clients in Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, and all of British Columbia.