What Is a Birth Injury?

What is a birth injury? A birth injury is a trauma to a baby that occurs during the duration of pregnancy, labor, delivery, or following childbirth. While some birth injuries result in minor problems for the newborn baby, others cause severe, permanent disabilities that can affect the child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive capabilities throughout his or her lifetime.

Most Common Types of Birth Injuries in Illinois

In many cases, birth injuries are preventable, but unfortunately, thousands of birth injuries (also called birth trauma) continue to occur every year in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3,613,647 live births in the United States in 2020, and approximately 1.9 per 1,000 of those live births resulted in some type of birth injury. In Illinois, birth injuries caused by medical negligence contribute to many serious birth injuries, disabilities, and even death.

If you’re pregnant or planning to have a baby, it’s important to understand what a birth injury is, how a birth injury happens, and what you should expect if your child has a birth injury.

What Causes a Birth Injury?

Birth injuries can be the result of natural causes during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or shortly after delivery. They can also be the result of medical errors made by hospitals, doctors, or nurses during those periods. Many birth injuries are linked to a difficult birth, caused by the following:

  • Baby’s birth weight (when it is over 8 pounds)
  •  Breech birth (baby is born feet first)
  • Mother’s pelvis size and shape
  •  Premature birth (babies born before 37 weeks)
  •  Prolonged labor

Common Birth Injuries

Bone fractures: Fractures frequently suggest severe physical trauma. The clavicle (collar bone) is the most common fracture in newborns and often accompanies shoulder dystocia or breech births. As new bone forms, a firm lump on the clavicle often develops in the first 10 days. More traumatic births often result in broken arms and legs.

Brachial Plexus Injury (Erb’s Palsy): The brachial plexus includes five nerves that run from the neck to the chest and armpit. They control the shoulders, arms, and hands. During delivery, the brachial plexus nerves may pull, stretch, or tear, resulting in weakness and immobility. Shoulder dystocia is the most common brachial plexus injury.

Caput Succedaneum: Caput succedaneum is scalp swelling from fluid buildup, giving infants a “cone head” appearance. Many cases resolve independently, but infants can develop alopecia, infections, or jaundice if the condition is not treated quickly.

Cerebral Palsy (CP): An infant may develop cerebral palsy when medical staff does not properly manage the umbilical cord, placenta, or uterine rupture. CP is caused by abnormal development in the brain and can severely impact brain and muscle functions. It’s one of the most common birth injuries seen by a Chicago birth injury lawyer that results in reduced motor functions and lifetime disability.

Cephalohematoma: Difficult deliveries involving forceps or a vacuum extractor place excessive pressure on the infant’s skull, making blood vessels rupture and pool blood between the skull and skin. Infants may recover but also risk suffering seizures, head swelling, and pain.

Facial Paralysis: During labor or birth, pressure on a baby’s face may injure the facial nerve. This can also happen when forceps are used for delivery. The injury is often seen when the baby cries. There is no movement on the side of the face with the injury, and the eye can’t be closed. If the nerve was only bruised, the paralysis usually improves in a few weeks. If the nerve was torn, surgery may be needed.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE): HIE generally refers to brain dysfunction due to lack of blood flow or oxygen. It may cause developmental delays, epilepsy and epileptic seizures, cerebral palsy, and other cognitive impairments.

Spinal Cord Injuries: Spinal injuries in newborns are immediately apparent. They often occur in the neck, and cause a lack of muscle control in the limbs. These injuries cause reduced sensation and immobility, and sometimes spasms and weakness. Spinal cord injuries can be severe and cause permanent damage, so immediate treatment is essential to prevent disabilities.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when a long or strenuous birth ruptures blood vessels below the infant’s eyes. Infants develop red spots that typically clear in a few weeks. If the spots don’t clear or become infected, infants may experience blindness, seizures, or lethargy.

Can Birth Injuries Be Prevented?

Many birth injuries suffered by unborn children, newborns, and infants are entirely preventable with regular doctor visits, physical exams, ultrasounds, and a healthy lifestyle while pregnant. When birth injuries occur, they are often the result of a lack of proper medical care on the part of the pregnant mother or the medical providers who are handling the mother’s medical care.

Healthcare providers who deviate from the expected standard of care by failing to anticipate, notice, or react to a problem during pregnancy may be legally liable when birth injuries occur. Negligent or wrongful actions by a hospital or doctor are often factors in common birth injuries, including:

  • Asphyxia – caused by oxygen deprivation
  • Head trauma – caused by the use of forceps
  •  Intracranial hemorrhage – caused by the use of forceps or vacuums
  • Nerve damage – caused by pulling or forceful delivery
  • Shoulder dystocia – caused by forceful twisting and pulling during delivery
  • Umbilical cord compression – caused by poor fetal monitoring

Are Birth Injuries and Birth Defects the Same?

The terms birth injury and birth defect are commonly used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between a birth injury and a birth defect, especially when it comes to legal claims.

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries involve physical injuries that occur to a baby during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or shortly after childbirth. Typically, birth injuries are caused by human factors such as complications during pregnancy or childbirth, prolonged labor, breached birth, fetal distress, the use of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery, or other medical complications during labor and delivery.

Birth Defects

Birth defects are issues related to a child’s DNA. Unlike birth injuries, which are caused by external factors, birth defects are usually caused by genetic factors. While most birth injuries are entirely preventable, there is nothing a doctor or parent can do to prevent a genetic defect, although some birth defects can be diagnosed and treated before birth. A birth defect is a physical or genetic abnormality that is present at birth, typically caused by genetic factors, environmental factors, or a combination of both.

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in every 33 babies in the U.S. are born with a birth defect. While some are minor and treatable, others are more severe with a significant impact on the child’s life. Common birth defects include: cleft lip or palate, clubfoot, congenital heart defects, Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, PKU, spina bifida, and missing or undeveloped limbs.

When Should You Hire a Birth Injury Lawyer?

If your child suffers a birth injury in Illinois, you should contact a birth injury lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the details of your child’s injury and how the injury occurred. Your lawyer will review your case and work with you to get the best outcome.

If your child suffered a birth injury due to medical negligence, you have the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible hospital or medical professional. Your lawyer will work with you to get you the compensation you deserve for your child’s injuries.

The amount awarded by the court can vary significantly depending on the nature of the child’s injury and how the injury occurred. If the birth injury results in no lasting or permanent damage to the child, compensation will be awarded to cover medical bills and pain and suffering. However, if birth injuries result in long-term or permanent injuries or disabilities, the monetary award will be significantly higher to cover the following:

  •  Medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Current and future rehabilitation and therapy expenses
  • Adaptive equipment expenses
  •  Pain and suffering
  • Disability or disfigurement

Some victims of birth injuries may be awarded punitive damages. These are damages that are awarded with the sole intent to punish the negligent party for his or her wrongdoing and deter future grossly negligent or intentional wrongdoing.

If you suspect that medical errors caused your baby’s birth injury, taking legal action right away can help you get the compensation you need to pay for financial losses. An experienced Chicago birth injury lawyer who’s familiar with the risk factors for birth injuries will review your medical records and work with medical experts to determine whether your child’s birth injury was a result of medical negligence or malpractice.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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