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What Are The Most Common Birth Injuries, And Why?

Many birth injuries result from a doctor or other medical professional’s failure to diagnose or properly address maternal or fetal complications during pregnancy, including fetal distress and cephalopelvic disproportion. Prolonged or difficult labor, shoulder dystocia, premature birth, large newborn size and abnormal birth presentation all increase the risk of serious birth injuries such as cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy. The majority of birth injuries can be prevented if proper medical judgment is followed by your health care providers.

If your child was born with cerebral palsy, shoulder dystocia, or another birth injury, the experienced Oklahoma City and Tulsa lawyers of Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst Attorneys At Law invite you to call our office at 800-539-0652 to speak with our legal team. If you choose to pursue legal action, you could recover financial compensation to offset the lifelong costs of medical care for your child.

Birth Asphyxia

Birth asphyxia, also known as perinatal or neonatal asphyxia, is caused by deprivation of oxygen to an infant, usually during the first or second stage of labor.

Symptoms of birth asphyxia may include:

  • Weak breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Slow heart rate
  • Poor muscle tone or reflexes
  • Blood acidosis (excess acid is in the blood)
  • Seizures

In many cases, birth asphyxia is a preventable condition that the doctor or delivery staff failed to prevent.

Causes of birth asphyxia may include:

  • Failure of a doctor to diagnose or address maternal or fetal distress
  • Prolonged or difficult labor
  • Failure to perform an emergency C-section
  • Failure to monitor a baby’s heart during labor and delivery
  • Compression of the umbilical cord
  • Failure of a doctor to diagnose or address maternal or fetal distress

The Effect Of Birth Asphyxia On Your Child’s Life

Babies with mild birth asphyxia may be successfully treated. However, the longer a baby goes in a deprived oxygen state, the more likely it is that he or she will suffer permanent disabilities. Oxygen deprivation can cause hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy and other types of birth injuries.

Brachial Plexus Injuries/Shoulder Dystocia

Brachial plexus palsy is paralysis of the arm due to an injury to the brachial plexus, a network of spinal nerves that originates in the back of the neck and extends through the arm. Newborns often sustain brachial plexus injuries from problems during birth, such as shoulder dystocia and prolonged labor. If an infant’s shoulders get wedged within the birth canal, the force used to pull the baby free also can damage the nerves in the brachial plexus. Most often, the upper nerves are injured, a condition called Erb’s palsy. Total brachial plexus birth palsy occurs when both the upper and lower nerves are damaged.

Effects Of Brachial Plexus Injuries

Severe cases of brachial plexus palsy result in a baby having complete lack of movement and feeling in his or her arm, muscle atrophy, permanent disability, and severe pain. How well a child recovers from a serious brachial plexus injury depends on a number of factors, including his or her age and the type, location and severity of the injury. Even with surgery, some people experience permanent disability, ranging from weakness in the hand, shoulder or arm to paralysis.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a serious neurological disorder that comes in a variety of forms. It affects motor functions and muscle coordination, and can significantly impact a child’s ability to maintain both stability and posture. It is one of the most serious and disabling types of birth injuries.

Cerebral palsy results in impaired motor and sensory function and other chronic physical and cognitive impairments. Most of these problems occur as the baby is delivered and parts of the brain are injured due to low levels of oxygen (hypoxia).

When a baby’s brain does not receive the proper amount of oxygen it needs, brain cells become depleted and die, placing a baby at risk of suffering from various types of brain dysfunctions. Shoulder dystocia and umbilical cord entrapment are each critical situations that require a medical professional to act quickly and efficiently to ensure the well-being of the baby and mother.

Most cases are preventable with proper medical care and judgment. Other causes of cerebral palsy include brain bleeding, infections, and severe jaundice during or after birth.

Types And Symptoms Of Cerebral Palsy

There are several different types of cerebral palsy, including spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic and mixed. Symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • Quadriparesis
  • Abnormal walk or inability to walk
  • Joint contractures
  • Muscle weakness or loss of muscle movement (paralysis)
  • Decreased intelligence or learning disabilities
  • Hearing, vision and speech problems
  • Seizures
  • Severe pain, especially in adults
  • Difficulty feeding in infants, or chewing and swallowing in children and adults
  • Constipation, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Increased drooling
  • Slower than normal growth
  • Irregular breathing
  • Incontinence of bowel and bladder

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible. Treatment requires a lifelong team approach, including a primary care doctor, rehabilitation therapists, nurses, and other specialists such as neurologists, rehabilitation physicians, pulmonologists and gastroenterologists. It can cost tens of millions of dollars to provide appropriate care to a profoundly injured cerebral palsy patient.

Detecting Cerebral Palsy In Infants

If cerebral palsy goes undetected in early infancy, signs may begin to appear when a toddler or child does not display age-appropriate characteristics of motor control, such as sitting, reaching or walking. Sadly, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, and its onset may be especially difficult for a family to accept when the condition was caused by a birth injury. That is, though a considerable number of babies develop cerebral palsy while still in the womb, many others become afflicted with the disorder because they sustained some kind of birth injury, such as umbilical cord entrapment/entanglement, shoulder dystocia or head injury during labor.

Treating Cerebral Palsy

There are a wide range of treatments currently available for those with cerebral palsy, including:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Assistive devices such as computers with voice synthesizers
  • Surgery to loosen muscle tension
  • Medications to help relieve pain, regulate seizures or reduce muscle spasms
  • Orthotic devices such as braces or wheelchairs

Erb’s Palsy/Brachial Plexus Injuries

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that originate in the back of the neck and extend through the shoulder to the arm. These nerves can be damaged if an infant’s shoulders get wedged within the birth canal, a condition known as shoulder dystocia.

Doctors often discover the dystocia only after delivery of the fetal head. At that point, special care needs to take place to enable delivery of the baby’s shoulders. Too much force with forceps or other assisted delivery can cause damage to the nerves of the brachial plexus. Most often, the upper nerves are injured, a condition called Erb’s palsy. Total brachial plexus birth palsy occurs when both the upper and lower nerves are damaged.

Shoulder dystocia can be avoided by use of cesarean section delivery. The major risk factors for shoulder dystocia include:

  • High birth weight
  • Positioning of the baby in the womb
  • Maternal obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Maternal age if the birth is a first delivery
  • Previous birth of a child with shoulder dystocia

Doctors should recognize these risk factors when delivering babies and be prepared to take whatever steps necessary to ensure a safe birth.

About two babies per 1,000 live deliveries are afflicted by brachial plexus birth injuries. Infants who are affected by loss of muscle control, paralysis or lack of limb coordination are destined to experience numerous challenges later on in life. When an afflicted infant does not show any improvements at age four to six months, surgery may be a viable option for helping to restore or increase motor function. Physical and/or occupational therapy promote increased strength and motor control in the arms, wrists and hands, and are also both effective options in helping to treat Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus injuries. Treatments used to maximize the functionality of the arm, wrist and hand may be necessary because they often prove successful, but such treatments are usually quite expensive even for those with good health insurance.

If your child suffers from Erb’s palsy or a brachial plexus injury at the time of their birth due to negligent action on the part of a physician or attending medical professional, our lawyers can seek compensation to help pay for medical bills, occupational and physical therapies, and other expenses associated with the birth injury.

Placental Problems

The placenta serves several essential functions during pregnancy. It supplies nutrients to the fetus, and also transfers oxygen and blood between the mother and child. If not diagnosed and treated promptly, placental problems can cause severe birth injuries or death of the child. One of the most common issues is placental abruption.

Did Your Doctor Fail To Diagnose And Treat Your Abruption?

If your doctor failed to diagnose and treat your abruption despite known risk factors and symptoms, you may have legal options. Abruption typically occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy. Symptoms may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pain in the abdomen or back
  • Uterine tenderness
  • Rapid contractions

Risk factors for placental abruption include:

  • The age of the mother
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Previous occurrences of placental abruption

Once separated from the uterus, the placenta cannot be reattached. Treatment options depend on the severity of the abruption and the term of the pregnancy.

Your doctor might hospitalize the mother and closely monitor the baby’s heartbeat. If bleeding stops and your baby’s heartbeat is stable, the doctor may prescribe bed rest and medication. The doctor may give the mother medication to help the baby’s lungs mature in case the baby needs to be delivered early. If the abruption progresses, the mother may deliver the baby by emergency C-section.

Our lawyers work with leading experts who can review your care and determine whether your doctor did everything he or she should have done to diagnose and treat your condition.

Other types of placental problems include:

  • Placenta previa is a condition where the placenta moves to the bottom of the womb, covering part or all of the cervix. If not diagnosed and treated, it can lead to conditions such as heart defects, seizures and neonatal asphyxia.
  • Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta is unable to deliver needed nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Also known as uteroplacental insufficiency, it can cause conditions such as cerebral palsy, neurological impairments, seizures and cognitive disabilities.

Umbilical Cord Problems

The umbilical cord contains two arteries supplying blood, oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and one vein carrying carbon dioxide and other waste products back to the mother. If this vital exchange is cut off or diminished, the baby can suffer birth defects, permanent injury or death.

Types Of Umbilical Cord Problems

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of umbilical cord problems is key to preventing serious injury or death of the baby. Some of the most common problems with the umbilical cord include:

  • Prolapse: Umbilical cord prolapse occurs when the umbilical cord drops through a mother’s cervix before the baby’s head during delivery. If physicians don’t treat the prolapse promptly, the baby may be deprived of oxygen.
  • Nuchal cord: A nuchal cord occurs when the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around the baby’s neck before delivery. If not promptly solved, the baby may suffer severe birth injuries due to restricted blood flow or oxygen.
  • Knots: Infant movements in amniotic fluid can cause umbilical cord knots. While the knots are usually loose, they can tighten during delivery, causing restricted blood flow. Without prompt treatment, the baby may suffer injuries from decreased blood flow or oxygen deprivation.
  • Strictures: Compressions (or strictures) in the umbilical cord can cause birth defects such as cleft lip, septal defects and trisomy, or result in death.
  • Cysts: Cysts are abnormal growths on the umbilical cord that can result in impaired blood flow. If not detected early in pregnancy, the cysts can lead to birth defects.

If your baby suffered an injury due to a doctor’s failure to address an umbilical cord problem, our lawyers will seek to recover the financial resources you will need to provide the best possible future for your child.

Contact Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst

Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst focuses on the litigation of birth injuries, including brachial plexus palsy, Erb’s palsy, cerebral palsy and shoulder dystocia cases. Our Oklahoma practice, serving Oklahoma City, Tulsa and other areas statewide, focuses on this area of complex medical law in order to provide our clients with expert legal representation. If your child has suffered a serious birth injury as a result of medical negligence, call us today at 800-539-0652 for a free case evaluation. You may also email us using our contact form.