When you stop to think about how a baby is born, it can seem astonishing that any of us negotiates it successfully. That tiny body must deal with various combinations of compression, traction, contractions and twisting, as well as possible use of metal instruments to assist, the umbilical cord possibly becoming tangled around the baby’s neck, and the switch from receiving oxygen from its mother’s blood supply to doing its own breathing.
And yet new babies are typically built to succeed in the birthing job, having, for instance, soft and flexible bones and blood which can handle temporary lack of oxygen. So most births are injury-free, and most minor injuries resolve within weeks or months.
But when a doctor or nurse is negligent, either failing to perform a necessary function, or performing it carelessly, and your baby is badly injured as a result, the emotional trauma is severe and the baby may be saddled with lifelong impairment. Medical costs can become enormous, as well as costs for necessary assistance in daily living.
A medical malpractice lawyer who specializes in birth injury lawsuits is the person who can most help if your baby has sustained a birth injury. And it is essential to contact a birth injury lawyer as soon as possible after you become aware of the possible claim so your lawyer can preserve evidence and you and your child will have the best chance for a good settlement.
Causes of Birth Injury
There are two main ways a baby can be injured during birth, and those are by a mechanical force (creating what are called birth injuries) or by impaired oxygen flow (creating what are called brain injuries, though they happen during birth).
Specifically, there are many ways these conditions can be brought about by negligence, causing injury to the baby, and some examples are:
- Fetal monitoring may be inadequate or non-existent, causing a lack of response to fetal distress
- The size of the baby could be miscalculated
- Delivery instruments such as forceps may be inappropriately or carelessly used
- Oxygen may be not given to a baby which needs it
- Wrong medications may be given to the mother
- A needed C-section might not be performed
- Medical problems in the mother might go undiagnosed or untreated
Birth Injuries Can Often Be Avoided
Certain circumstances are known to increase the risk of birth injury, and if preventive measures are taken, injury can be avoided. Some of those circumstances are:
- The baby is particularly large or small (post-mature or premature)
- Instruments such as forceps are used during delivery
- There’s a breech presentation (i.e., the baby is turned around and not coming head-first)
- The mother’s pelvis is too small for the size of the baby
- Labor lasts too long
A reputable and experienced doctor or nurse will take these circumstances into account and modify the birthing procedures accordingly. Most birth injuries resolve within a few months of birth. Sometimes they don’t and the child is later found to be disabled in some way.
Cerebral Palsy is the most serious brain injury sustained during birth, and is not always detected until later on. This term refers to a number of neurological problems that affect movement and muscle coordination. It can be caused by damage to the brain arising from infection (either in the mother during pregnancy or in the infant), from bleeding in the brain, or from prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain. Treatments for cerebral palsy can be time-demanding and expensive. There are many possible causes of cerebral palsy and many things are not known about it. Sometimes it’s related to heredity. Research is ongoing. But enough is known about it to enable prevention in many cases.
Erb’s Palsy (also called Brachial Plexus Paralysis) is caused by over-stretching of nerves in the baby’s shoulder area. There are five nerves in this plexus (or cluster of interlaced nerves), which allow movement and feeling in the arms. If the baby’s shoulder gets stuck against the mother’s pubic bone, the baby might be pulled to get it free, using forceps around its head. This can stretch one or more of those five nerves and lead to damaged or lost function of muscles in the rotator cuff.
There are other brachial plexus injuries also, such as Klumpke’s Palsy. Sometimes they don’t heal spontaneously and surgery followed by physical therapy becomes necessary. In some cases there may be permanent damage.
Other Types of Birth Injury
Each birth injury situation is unique and can combine several conditions such as:
- Spinal cord damage
- Bleeding within the skull
- Bone or skull fractures
- Nerve trauma
- Skin problems
- Damage to the eyes
Birth injury lawsuits are complex and time-consuming, because expert medical testimony is expensive and sometimes reluctant. Medical professionals aren’t always willing to testify against each other. There’s often controversy about how a condition might be caused, due to lack of established medical knowledge in some respects, where research has given us conflicting theories. But a good attorney can navigate through these difficulties and build a case for you.
If your baby was injured at birth and you suspect medical malpractice, don’t delay in consulting an experienced birth injury lawyer. You may have a valid legal claim and with legal representation may be able to win some financial help for your child in addition to covering your high medical expenses.
A new baby is one of the miracles of life and a great joy to the family, so when somebody’s negligence mars the event with potentially lifelong disability, you could be entitled to compensation, and although financial compensation may not help directly with the emotional pain, it would not go amiss either, for most of us.