When you go to the hospital to have a baby, you think that you’re getting the best care possible. It doesn’t occur to you that those medical professionals who are there to help you and your baby can injure both of you – sometimes for life.
We’re not saying this is the rule – generally, it’s the exception. You’re more likely to get harsher care or your child sustain a birth injury if the hospital is overstaffed or if the Doctor still uses old methods.
Some injuries can’t be prevented at all, like when the baby is breach. In that case, it’s up to you and the doctor to figure out an alternative plan (like a C-section).
Though you’d never know this from our culture, America is very high on the list of infant and mother delivery mortality. It’s worth knowing what could go wrong when you give birth.
What are Birth Injuries?
Generally, the term birth injury applies to the infant, not the mother. But there are certain circumstances where the mother can sustain an injury during the birthing process as well.
Like an episiotomy. In some cases, these are necessary to help get the baby out, but the cut shouldn’t be that big – or that deep. Some women who (weren’t asked) and were given a deep and high-level episiotomy have to get follow up surgery for years, following the delivery.
To get back to the legal and infant related definition, though, birth injuries are anything that happens to the infant during the birthing process. It can be something as simple as bruising, to something as extreme as a broken bone.
What Causes Birth Injuries?
In most cases, birth injuries are natural. They occur when the mother has a small pelvis, when the baby is big, or when labor goes on for too long.
But these things are avoidable if the medical team is paying enough attention.
For example, a doctor should be able to see the general size of a baby during an ultrasound. If it’s too large for the woman to deliver vaginally, they should let the woman know they recommend a C-section.
Other discoveries, like the position of the baby, can change from the last ultrasound to the day of delivery. If a woman starts pushing and they realize the baby is breach, then the doctor should recommend a c-section as well.
Not everything is obvious and it’s not all avoidable, but the majority of the time a doctor with experience who’s paying attention should be able to prevent more extreme injuries.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
By far the most common type of birth injury is skull/tissue bruising of the infant’s head. The medical name for this is Caput succedaneum.
Babies skulls aren’t solid before they’re born. The sections of the skull stay separated, to help the baby fit through the birth canal.
This is one reason we’re so careful with an infants head for a long time after they’re born. It’s also why they have a soft spot – it’s where the bones haven’t fused together yet.
But the separate skull parts are only so flexible. Sometimes the baby’s head is too big and the normal size birth canal applies too much pressure while they’re passing through.
This causes bruising and swelling of the skull tissue.
It’s also common when doctors deliver babies through vacuum extraction, which is a dying practice. As you can imagine, pulling a baby out by its head is not great for the skull.
In most cases, even the ones in vacuum births, this problem heals in a few days or weeks at most. The infant may experience some bruising or swelling, but it won’t affect their long-term health.
Another semi-common and more extreme birth injury is facial paralysis. It happens when too much pressure is exerted on the baby’s face while they travel through the birth canal.
It can happen naturally, but it’s more common when tools, like forceps, are used during birth.
If this nerve is damaged, the nurses will notice when the baby does their first cry. Usually, only half their face will move or express any sort of reaction to crying.
In the less intense cases, this is damage to the nerve and not a full tear. Damage can heal in a number of days to weeks, on its own.
But if it’s a full tear, the child will require surgery to repair the nerve connection.
Another rather problematic type of injury is birth fractures. They happen when someone tries to have a vaginal birth when the baby is too big or in a strange position.
There’s a biological reason babies come out head first – it’s easiest for the head to fit through. If the baby were to come out legs first, for example, one leg could get caught or crossed on top of the other, making them harder to deliver.
Consider if the baby is shoulder first, up against the birth canal. The mother would push and the wide back/shoulder of the baby would be forced through the canal first.
That kind of pressure can cause a bone break or fracture. Doctors should see this coming through ultrasounds and pre-delivery checks. Developing a fracture during birth can almost always be avoided and if your baby was born with one, you may be entitled to a settlement.
Having a Safe Delivery
We don’t mean to scare you. Millions of women have healthy and natural vaginal births every year. But it’s worth knowing what a baby being “breach” means when you’re in the middle of labor pains and not in the mood to Google it.
If your baby does sustain birth injuries, make sure you follow the follow-up care to the letter. And get a lawyer, if that’s something you want to do.
Did a complicated delivery run up your medical debt? Learn about managing it here.