Giving birth can be an emotionally traumatic experience for the mother. However, it can also be physically traumatic for the baby and cause lasting damage in several forms.
A difficult birth can cause a range of birth injuries, some of which will be permanent. They can be triggered by factors such as premature birth, an abnormally shaped pelvis in the mother, or medical tools that are used to extract a baby.
There are conditions caused during childbirth, not ones that developed before the baby was delivered. And they’re not considered uncommon — they affect around 2 per 1,000 births, although that number is dropping over the years.
Whatever the reasons for the injury, whether it’s from natural birth factors or medical negligence, here are 8 of the most common birth injuries you should know about.
1. Bone Fractures
Particularly difficult labor can cause fractured bones in a newborn; this can commonly happen in the collar bone.
While it sounds very serious, doctors can often treat these breaks through immobilization. Chances are, the fracture will heal on its own fairly quickly.
This is actually the most common birth injury and it can be tough to detect sometimes because it’s hard to notice a deformity from a fracture of the collar bone. However, pain from the injury may become an obvious clue.
Femur fractures (in the leg) can also happen in a newborn, although not nearly as common as the collar bone injury. The baby can wear a harness for a number of weeks until it heals.
2. Fractures of the Growth Plates
These are injuries to the softer tissues of the bones that are responsible for growth. If there is damage to a growth plate from childbirth, you can usually tell by seeing swelling at the end of a long arm or legbone. These injuries may or may not show up on an x-ray immediately.
The good news is, it doesn’t mean your child will not grow due to the nature of the injury. The problem often clears up on its own within weeks after the medical team sufficiently protects the affected area.
3. Erb’s Palsy
This is an injury to the nerves that run from the neck to the arm (specifically called the brachial plexus) that is located near the collar bone. It’s caused by the baby’s neck being placed under a lot of strain during delivery.
The result is a weakness of one arm, which can sometimes go away on its own within 6 months. However, the damage can vary from case to case and surgery might be an option.
This has a long medical name and likely looks a lot worse than it actually is. It’s defined as blood that’s collected between the scalp and the skull, caused by damage to blood vessels during delivery.
The condition can look alarming, but it doesn’t actually pose any danger to the newborn, as the blood isn’t actually sitting on the brain. It’s on top of the skull.
5. Caput Succedaneum
This is a swelling of the scalp, usually caused by excessive pressure on the skull during childbirth. The result is what looks like a bruise on the baby’s head.
However, while it can be concerning to a new mother, be assured that it usually clears up on its own. It can be the result of difficult labor, incorrect fetal positions, or from the use of forceps and other tools to extract the infant.
It’s wise to talk to an expert about birth injury laws in some cases to determine any negligence causing injury.
6. Perinatal Asphyxia
This refers to the baby being starved for oxygen during birth, but in some cases, the condition can be present prior to that. It can be caused by pressure on the umbilical cord, low blood pressure in the mother, or low levels of oxygen due to anesthesia.
The results of this birth injury can be someone moderate to severe. Symptoms can include trouble breathing, seizures, or even a coma.
It may also present as bluish skin, low heart rate, and weak muscle tone.
While the conditions can improve on its own in some cases, in others, it could cause long-term neurological damage.
7. Cerebral Palsy
This is a brain injury in a baby, which can happen during birth. It can affect motor skills and muscle spasms, and it can also cause poor vision, hearing, and speaking skills. It affects up to 3 out of 1,000 births.
It can take some time for symptoms to become apparent and a diagnosis to be made. Doctors can use a range of tools including brain scans to confirm a diagnosis.
There are a number of medications and treatments that can improve the quality of life for those affected by cerebral palsy. However, so far, there’s no cure.
8. Bleeding in the Brain
A birth injury can cause bleeding in the brain of a newborn. It can be caused by a difficult birth, but this has also been known to occur in otherwise healthy mothers and babies. They are more common among premature births.
Brain bleeds can come in a variety of forms. In some cases, the baby may be taken to a special ICU for monitoring. Depending on the type of brain bleed, there can be seizures and other symptoms, but many babies recover fairly well after some time.
The Effects of a Difficult Birth
Unfortunately, birth injuries happen more often than you might think. However, while your newborn may have immediate signs of a problem from a difficult birth, it doesn’t mean they’ll be faced with challenges for their entire life.
In many cases, the problem will clear up on its own with minimal medical intervention. In other cases, there might be surgery required, and there might be lasting neurological issues that can be managed with treatments.
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