Common Types of Birth Injuries
In the United States, 29 out of 1,000 babies suffer a birth injury. Many times, the injury is caused due to improper handling or poor use of instruments commonly used during childbirth. Larger infants, babies born prematurely and difficult or prolonged labor can all contribute to injury during birth. In addition, a mother with a pelvis that is too small or the wrong shape for delivery as well as an abnormal fetal position can also lead to injury. There are four common, yet serious, injuries that can occur during birth, most of which are preventable.
During or just before delivery, an infant’s facial nerves can be damaged, causing a condition known as Bell’s Palsy. Although the cause of the condition is not known completely, it can occur in a difficult delivery requiring forceps, although it has occurred even when forceps are not used. The condition develops more often in large infants, during a long labor, after the use of an epidural or when medication is used to induce labor. Symptoms of this birth injury include:
Inability of the infant to close one eyelid
Uneven appearance of the face below the eyes even during crying
Both sides of the infant’s mouth do not move the same way when crying
One side of the face does not move, sometimes from the forehead to the chin
The paralysis normally clears on its own, but in severe cases, surgery may be required. Permanent paralysis can occur.
Brachial Plexus Injury
The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves connecting the spine, shoulder, arm and hand. Minor injuries to the nerves are common in contact sports and are often called stingers or burners due to the type of pain the injury can cause. During birth, the nerves can be compressed, stretched or even ripped from the spinal cord. Severe injury to the brachial plexus can leave the child with one paralyzed arm so that they have limited function or sensation in that arm. Nerve grafts and transfers as well as muscle transfers through surgery may help restore function, although in severe injuries full function may not return.
Although cerebral palsy can develop in the womb, approximately 20 percent of the cases are caused by injury during birth. In some cases cerebral palsy can be caused by an injury or it can be caused by severe oxygen deprivation. Breech births, low birth weight, multiple births or respiratory problems shortly after birth make a child more at risk for cerebral palsy. Symptoms can be mild to severe, ranging from minor learning disabilities to physical and mental incapacity due to the brain injury.
Skull, clavicle and femoral fractures can occur during birth. Fracture of the collarbone, or clavicle, occur the most often. An infant may be fussy or express pain when the arm is moved, or they may not be able to move the arm at all. The child may have difficulty breastfeeding if the mother places the injured arm against her. A severe fracture could injure the brachial plexus furthering the injury to the child. Fractures of the thigh bone, or femur, are rare, but have occurred during difficult births and are more likely in breech births. The injury is usually discovered soon after birth and before the child is discharged. Skull fractures may also occur during birth and are more common when vacuum or forceps extraction is used. Symptoms may include anemia or jaundice. The baby may also exhibit behavioral changes, irritability as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Sometimes, symptoms may be difficult to recognize as parents may not recognize a change in personality as they would in an older child or adult.