When an injury occurs during the birth of a child, the life of a family can be upended and impacted forever. A birth injury is an injury an infant sustains during pregnancy, labour, delivery, or post-delivery. In some cases, the injuries can be immediately diagnosed, but in others, it may take years to identify the source of a child’s illness or injury. Birth injuries can cause permanent disabilities. These injuries can be catastrophic and can forever alter the health and life of a child. The aftermath can equate to a lifetime of ongoing medical needs and significant lifestyle changes for the family in order to care for their child. In this blog, we’ll discuss some of the most common birth injuries, talk about factors that can cause or contribute to birth injuries, and help you understand what you can do if your child was injured during birth as a result of a medical professional’s negligence.
Types of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries vary in severity and type. They can occur in any area of the body and be temporary or have lasting, serious effects. Any birth injury, no matter how severe, can be traumatic for both the infant and its family.
Because of the sometimes traumatic nature of childbirth, bone fractures or breaks to the infant can occur. If breaks or fractures are diagnosed and treated quickly and adequately, the child may not have any lasting effects from the injury. If the injury goes undiagnosed or treatment is not complete, some children may encounter serious repercussions that could impact their overall development. The most common fracture or break to occur during birth is to the infant’s clavicle or collar bone. Other bones may also be fractured during traumatic births. Examples include the humerus, femur, and skull.
Birth Trauma Injuries
Difficult deliveries can cause trauma to the newborn. Difficult deliveries may occur for a variety of reasons, including the size of the baby. When the infant gets stuck in the birth canal, they can experience trauma to their shoulders and the connective tissue and nerves. The medical team will attempt to perform specialized manoeuvres that aim to reposition the baby if the newborn is trapped in the birth canal. If these manoeuvres are not performed or are not performed correctly, or if the medical team employs the use of birthing tools, like forceps or vacuum extractors improperly, the child may experience a birth trauma related injury. These birth trauma can injuries include:
- Shoulder dystocia – This birth trauma occurs when one or both of the infant’s shoulders become stuck or trapped in the birth canal.
- Brachial plexus injuries – These injuries occur after birth trauma to the neck and affect the nerves in the shoulder. They can cause pain, weakness, and numbness and affect the movement of the arms and hands. Mild injuries may resolve without the need for intervention in just a matter of days. Severe injuries may require physical therapy or surgery.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord birth injuries typically occur as a result of spinal cord trauma. The trauma can occur when the doctor strains an infant’s neck by pulling or twisting it, or by employing the use of tools to extract the baby from the birth canal. Since the spinal cord connects critical nerves between the brain and the body, these injuries can impact more than just the specific area of trauma. When nerves are damaged or, in catastrophic cases, completely torn, the infant can face a lifetime of consequences. Many children who sustain spinal cord injuries during birth must be treated with surgery, medication, and ongoing physical therapy. Common spinal cord birth injuries include:
- Contusion – Mild or severe bruising that occurs during birth.
- Partial tear to the spinal cord – When tears of any size occur to the spinal cord, the infant usually experiences resulting symptoms like weakness, partial paralysis, and partial loss of sensation that affect all areas below the torn or damaged level. Depending on the severity of the tear, some children who experience this type of injury at birth are able to make a full recovery and regain movement and sensation.
- Transection – A complete tear to the spinal cord. This injury is severe and typically results in deficits like loss of movement and sensation below the damaged portion. A severed spinal cord usually causes death or permanent paralysis.
Injuries to the Head and Brain
Birth injuries that affect the child’s head and brain can be catastrophic and life-altering. When a brain injury occurs, the aftermath of that injury has the capacity to impact the child’s lifespan and overall quality of life. They can lead to other serious issues such as cognitive impairment, developmental disabilities, intellectual delay, learning disabilities, and hearing loss. These injuries can happen during prolonged or difficult labour and may be the result of the improper use of vacuum extractors and forceps. Birth injuries to the head and brain can include:
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage – This injury occurs when a tiny blood vessel in the conjunctiva area of the eye breaks. It may be present in one or both eyes. It typically presents as a bloodshot appearance of the eye. While this injury isn’t of serious concern, it may indicate that trauma occurred, and other injuries could be present as well.
- Cephalohematoma – This injury happens when blood vessels between the skull and the outer membrane are ruptured. Localized swelling of the scalp is usually present. This injury typically resolves on its own without the need for medical intervention.
- Subgaleal hemorrhage – When the bleeding is not localized and is more widespread, a rare but potentially fatal hemorrhage can occur. This serious injury occurs after a rupture of the emissary veins, which serve to connect the dural sinuses to the scalp veins. The rupture results in the accumulation of blood between the epicranial aponeurosis and the periosteum.
- Jaundice – A liver condition that causes yellowing of an infant’s skin and eyes is the result of a buildup of bilirubin in the blood, sometimes caused by an underdeveloped or immature liver. Most cases are mild and no treatment is required. The medical team may use light therapy (phototherapy) to help resolve more severe cases.
- Kernicterus – If a severe case of jaundice goes untreated, it can cause an excess of bilirubin, which can result in damage to the brain and central nervous system. This is a rare but serious complication.
- Caput succedaneum – A fluid buildup may occur in the scalp as the result of long or intense periods of pressure to the infant’s head during labour. This injury generally does not require medical intervention, although the medical team will likely monitor the injury to ensure no bruising or additional injuries are present.
- Hydrocephalus – If the birth trauma to the head is severe, cerebrospinal fluid can accumulate in and around the brain. This presents as head enlargement in infants. This can cause increased intracranial pressure and can damage the brain. This injury can be fatal if undiagnosed or untreated.
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy – When a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time, the result could be hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). The causes of HIE can include untreated infections, the entanglement of the baby’s umbilical cord, and extended or intense labour. Children who experienced brain damage related to HIE may later be diagnosed with autism, pulmonary issues, abnormal muscle tone, development delays, and seizures.
- Perinatal stroke – When blood vessels in the brain get blocked or broken, a stroke can occur. This neurologic syndrome is typically the result of a brain injury that occurred prior to or shortly after birth. Many children who experience a perinatal stroke live with long-term neurological problems.
- Neonatal hypoglycemic brain injury (NHBI) – This injury occurs when the baby’s brain does not have enough glucose. While hypoglycemia is a common metabolic condition, when infants experience persistent or recurrent hypoglycemia, it can result in permanent brain injury and be the cause of conditions like cognitive impairment, vision disturbance, occipital lobe epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.
- Cerebral palsy – Infants who incur brain damage are at risk of developing cerebral palsy. The condition is severe and causes the child to experience a deficit in muscle control. This creates a litany of other complications that affect the child’s quality of life and overall health. Children with cerebral palsy have difficulty with mobility, balance, speech, and coordination. They are typically unable to maintain their own posture and suffer from sensory perception deficits. Their cognitive abilities are impacted, and many patients with cerebral palsy experience seizures and tremors.
- Cortical visual impairment (CVI) or neurological visual impairment (NVI) – This serious neurological impairment is typically caused by a lack of oxygen or blood during birth. This condition is common in children with cerebral palsy. It can be mild or very severe and may be temporary or permanent.
Errors Made by Medical Professionals That Can Cause a Birth Injury
While a variety of health factors may cause or contribute to a birth injury like maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, umbilical cord complications, prolonged labour, breech birth, a significant disparity between the size of the baby and the mother’s pelvis, maternal infection, and premature birth, some birth injuries may be the result of negligence on the part of the medical professionals. When the medical team that helps to deliver a child, including doctors, midwives, and nurses, acts negligently, they could be liable. In instances like those, where a birth injury could have been avoided, it makes the repercussions and lasting impacts all the more agonizing for the family. Errors or failures on the part of the medical team could include:
- Lack of appropriate prenatal screenings
- Not adequately monitoring the development of the fetus
- Improper use of or administration of fertility drugs and labour-inducing drugs
- Not monitoring the fetal heartbeat before, during, and after delivery
- Failing to identify and monitor fetal distress
- Not performing a timely C-section
- Not identifying a maternal infection
- Improperly performing or addressing a breech delivery
- Improperly performing or not performing needed manoeuvres to properly deliver the baby
- Not correctly using birthing tools like forceps or vacuum extractors
- Not identifying and treating issues related to the umbilical cord
- Not monitoring or providing oxygen in a timely manner
When these types of negligent errors occur, the child may be injured during birth. That injury can have a lasting impact and leave the parents wondering who was responsible for what happened.
Who Is Responsible?
Parents place an enormous amount of trust in the medical team that delivers their child. When something goes wrong during childbirth, it can be terrifying and heartbreaking. If a member or members of the medical team that delivered your child failed to meet the established standard of care and your child was harmed as a result, they may be held liable for the injury. Depending on the facts of the case, one or more of the members of the medical team may be responsible for the birth injury. Members of medical teams that deliver babies can include:
- Obstetricians and OBGYNs
Additionally, the hospital that employs the members of the medical team may also be held liable in certain instances. A birth injury lawyer can thoroughly investigate your case to identify what errors occurred and which individuals and/or institutions are responsible.
Did Your Child Suffer a Birth Injury?
Birth injuries can have a devastating impact on families. Children who suffer birth trauma may experience lifelong challenges, and parents may struggle to care for and support their child. Raising a child who endured a birth injury often means that parents face weighty financial pressures, the coordination of ongoing, complex medical care, and mental and emotional repercussions.
If you believe your child suffered a birth injury due to the negligence of medical professionals involved in prenatal care, labour, delivery, or post-delivery, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Klein Lawyers has over 20 years of success and experience in the legal field. During that time, we’ve worked hard to earn the trust and respect of Canadians who need legal representation. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. We will pursue the compensation you and your family deserve. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop standing up to medical professionals who harm individuals through their negligence.
Klein Lawyers Can Help
Klein Lawyers handles birth injury cases, has a stellar reputation, and has an outstanding track record. We have the resources, knowledge, and experience Canadians need to get the justice and compensation they deserve.
We will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review pertinent medical records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. During the case, we will retain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the birth injury that occurred and assess the nature of the injury and its long-term effects on you and your child’s life. We will work to identify all of the instances of negligence that occurred during your child’s birth and who was responsible for them. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life, while we focus on your case.
We keep you informed throughout the entire case, so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what’s going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. Too often, we hear concerns expressed from potential clients about what the process will be like, what they will need to do, how often they will hear from their lawyers, and what will be expected of them. We will make it clear right from the start. You will know what to expect, and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.
Contact Us Today
Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver birth injury lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There’s no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We’re here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.