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What is Birth Injury?

When something goes wrong during a pregnancy or birthing process, it causes a birth injury. In some cases, the mother might have had problems during the pregnancy; in other cases, a medical professional’s negligence causes the birth injury. In a nutshell, when a baby suffers a traumatic event, such as a delayed birth or a doctor recklessly using implements, the event causes a birth defect.

Birth injury cases are complex cases as more than one defendant might share in the responsibility for the injury. Additionally, you have to prove that the medical professional was negligent. In some cases, proving negligence is easy enough, though in other cases, it could be difficult. A Chicago birth injury attorney can help prove a medical professional’s negligence caused the birth injury.

Causes of Birth Injuries

Four groups of events could cause birth injuries, including delayed birth, medical malpractice, oxygen deprivation, and “other causes.” Each cause group has several types of injuries and/or symptoms.

Delayed Birth

A delayed birth lasts more than 18 hours of labor. The delay could cause pressure on the baby’s brain, which leads to high blood pressure and fetal distress. If the baby’s blood pressure is high enough, he or she could suffer cardiovascular issues, including stroke or intracranial hemorrhage.

Medical Malpractice

When a doctor uses force or is otherwise negligent during the delivery process and does not properly monitor the mother and baby during the pregnancy and birthing process, the baby could suffer a birth injury. Inexperience and impatience also lead to birth injuries caused by medical malpractice.

Using vacuum extraction and forceps significantly increases the chance of birth injuries, as does not noticing low oxygen flow to the baby’s brain.

Doctors who wait too long or do not opt for an emergency cesarean section could cause birth defects, including:

  • Obstetric brachial plexus injuries,
  • Erb’s palsy,
  • Klumpke’s palsy,
  • Facial nerve paralysis,
  • Intracranial hemorrhage,
  • Hematomas,
  • Caput succedaneum, and
  • Subgaleal Hemorrhage.

Oxygen Deprivation

Usually caused by underdeveloped lungs or a prolapsed umbilical cord, oxygen deprivation causes birth defects in the form of brain-related injuries. If the brain injury is severe enough, it could last a lifetime.

Other Causes

Some other causes of birth injuries include improper manipulation of the baby’s body during delivery, medications the mother takes, gestational diabetes that doctors do not closely monitor and control, and viral and bacterial infections in the fetus or mother during pregnancy.

In many cases, medical professionals could bear the liability of birth defects that these events cause if the doctor’s actions or inactions were incorrect, late, or didn’t happen at all.


Common Birth Injuries

Some of the more common birth injuries include:

Brachial Palsy

When the nerves that control the hands and arms suffer trauma during birth, it causes brachial palsy. This could happen if the baby’s shoulder gets stuck. If the only injury is swelling and bruising around the nerves, the baby regains the ability to rotate and flex the arm. If the nerve tears, it generally results in permanent damage.

Caput Succedaneum

Babies traveling through the birth canal can bruise the scalp’s soft tissue. While this is common, it is more common when doctors use vacuum extraction. In most cases, the swelling goes down in a few days, and the baby does not have additional problems.

Bruising / Forceps Marks

Some babies have bruises from contacting the mother’s pelvic tissues and bones. However, bruising and forceps marks can happen when a doctor must use forceps or vacuum extraction. In most cases, these are temporary marks.

Facial Paralysis

If the pressure of going through the birth canal or assistive implements puts too much pressure on the baby’s face, it could injure the facial nerve. The baby can’t close his or her eyes, and the side of the face may not move when the baby cries. In the case of a bruised nerve, the paralysis usually recedes after a few weeks. However, if the doctor tore the nerve when using forceps, the baby might require surgery to repair the paralysis.


In a breech delivery, the baby could break his or her collarbone (clavicle). New bone forms, and the break heals within a few weeks. Symptoms include the inability to move the arm. Sometimes, doctors will splint the arm and shoulder if the pain is too much for the baby.


Bleeding between the skull and the fibrous covering can happen in difficult births. You usually don’t notice cephalohematoma until several hours after birth. The hematoma could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to three months to completely disappear. If the injury is large, the baby could develop jaundice from the broken red blood cells.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries are not common but can happen if the spinal cord rotates or there is excessive traction during extraction. The baby has a higher mortality risk if the issue is in the cervical or upper thoracic area. For issues in the lower thoracic and lumbosacral areas, the baby could have significant morbidity with bladder and bowel dysfunction.

What to Do When You Suspect a Birth Injury

If you suspect your baby has a birth injury, speak to your doctor regarding care. Depending on whether your doctor was involved in the birth, you may not get complete answers as to the reason for the birth injury. You might consider obtaining a second opinion.

You should also contact a birth injury attorney to discuss the injury. Birth injury lawyers have experience in many types of birth injuries. They will investigate the matter to determine whether a doctor or other medical professionals were negligent during the pregnancy and/or birthing process.

Keep a diary of your baby’s activities, growth progress, and injury. For example, document the movement if the baby cannot move his or her arm much.

Contact a birth injury attorney at Chicago Medical Malpractice Lawyers if you suspect your baby has a birth injury.

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