Childbirth is often regarded as one of the most precious and rewarding experiences that someone can go through. However, despite modern medicine, not all births run as smoothly as expected. This means that birth injuries are not uncommon experiences for newborn babies. Though some injuries can be caused by the physical delivery process itself, many childbirth injuries occur due to medical negligence. Regardless of the cause, understanding birth injuries can help put the risks of childbirth into perspective. Below are some of the most common types of childbirth injuries that can occur during delivery.
- Bone Fractures
Fractures display as a partial or full break of a bone. In newborns, the most common bone fractures during childbirth are seen in the long bones. The long bones, as the name suggests, are bones that are longer than they are wide. In childbirth, commonly fractured long bones include the clavicle, humerus, and femur. The clavicle, also known as the collarbone, is generally the fracture that occurs the most.
Bone fractures during childbirth can be caused by a variety of factors including but not limited to the mother having a narrow birth canal, the improper use of medical tools during delivery, and breech presentation of the baby.
- Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a type of chronic motor disorder characterized by muscle irregularities and movement abnormalities. A newborn child with CP may display excessive drooling, uneven muscle tone, crossed eyes, or seemingly unusual fidgeting. The outlook or prognosis for cerebral palsy can vary vastly from person to person. While some individuals may show mild symptoms, others may have more complex conditions like epilepsy.
During birth, cerebral palsy can be the consequence of improper fetal monitoring and asphyxiation, which is the lack of oxygen delivered to the brain. This may result in neurological complications that can alter a person’s lifestyle.
- Brachial Plexus Injuries
The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves located in the upper back and lower neck that send and respond to signals from the spinal cord to the upper appendages like the shoulder, arm, and hand. During birth, these nerves can be damaged by excess pressure or stretching, such as when the head and shoulder are moved in the opposite direction.
This condition ranges from temporary to debilitating. Symptoms can be resolved in the first year of birth, yet others may result in permanent nerve damage and paralysis.
- Caput Succedaneum
Caput Succedaneum is a type of head injury characterized by the swelling of the soft tissue on the scalp. The scalp itself may appear to be discolored and bruised after delivery. This type of childbirth injury is typically caused by misapplied tools. When giving birth, doctors may use instruments like forceps or use vacuum extraction, and injury can occur when improperly situated on the baby. This causes facial and scalp swelling as well as signs of discomfort. Most cases resolve within a few days of delivery and have an excellent clinical prognosis.
- Perinatal Asphyxia
When a newborn baby is deprived of oxygen during childbirth, it can result in perinatal asphyxia. This is a type of condition that is defined by a lack of oxygen intake during birth often caused by umbilical cord compression, meconium aspiration syndrome, and placenta-uterine separation. Perinatal asphyxia can result in a wide variety of health issues including hypoxemia and acidosis. Symptoms of perinatal asphyxia include having an abnormal and weak heart rate, pale skin, weak muscle tone, and complications with blood circulation and clotting.
The most severe cases of this condition could require placing the baby in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to supply pure oxygen, inducing hypothermia to cool body temperature, and the distribution of medications. These can help prevent further organ damage.
- Facial paralysis
In newborns, facial paralysis can occur during delivery. This happens due to damage done to the seventh cranial nerve, which is the facial nerve. In many cases, facial paralysis occurs due to medical malpractice. During labor, putting excess pressure on the face, especially with the use of forceps or due to prolonged labor, can lead to this complication.
Depending on the degree of nerve damage, symptoms range from general muscle weakness to the complete inability to move the facial muscles. There is a chance of recovery if treated promptly.
A hemorrhage is a form of blood loss from a damaged or ruptured blood vessel somewhere in the body, specifically the brain. In childbirth, a newborn can sustain multiple types of hemorrhages including subarachnoid, intracranial, and subconjunctival hemorrhages. Both subarachnoid and intracranial hemorrhages relate to blood vessel ruptures in the brain, while subconjunctival hemorrhages occur from blood vessel damage in the eye.
Causes of hemorrhages include fetal distress, having a difficult or complicated delivery, or asphyxia. Depending on the severity of the condition, infants may heal with little residual effects. However, others may suffer developmental delays, physical or mental impairments, learning disabilities, and even cerebral palsy.
- Spinal Cord
There are many different types of spinal cord injuries that someone can sustain, but newborn spinal cord injuries are often one of the most severe types of birth injury. Typically, due to a medical mistake, spinal cord injuries typically occur when there is blunt force trauma to the baby’s body during birth or the forceful use of forceps. Alternatively, stressful deliveries that lead to rotational stress, or abnormal birthing positions can lead to this injury.
Spinal cord injuries may lead to nerve damage, loss of muscle movement, and weak reflexes. In more severe cases, they could cause difficulty breathing and the loss of feeling in the appendicular areas and bladder.
- Bone injuries during delivery
- Cerebral Palsy: Comprehensive Review and Update
- AANEM Erb’s Palsy
- Caput Succedaneum
- Perinatal Asphyxia
- Facial nerve palsy in the newborn: incidence and outcome
- Intracranial and extracranial hemorrhages in newborns with hemophilia: a review of the literature
- Spinal cord injuries at birth: a multicenter review of nine cases
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