Birth Malpractice and Birth Trauma

Unfortunately, every year children are born suffering from serious permanent neurological or intellectual problems. Often these injuries could have been prevented with appropriate monitoring, intervention, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, nurse or other health care provider. In some cases, there are signs that the unborn baby is not developing in a healthy manner or is in fetal distress. In some cases the mother’s history can include factors that may make the pregnancy or delivery high-risk. There are many different possible causes for birth injuries, including:

  • failure to note fetal distress
  • breech delivery
  • delayed cesarean section
  • placenta abruption
  • lack of attention, monitoring or care

As a result of a birth injury or defect, an infant may be afflicted with the following conditions:

Cerebral Palsy – a condition involving a group of disorders that affects the child’s ability to control his or her own movements and may result in the following types of cerebral palsy: spastic cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy or mixed cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy can result from a birthing complication related to severe asphyxia meaning a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can occur when:

  • the child’s breathing is restricted by the umbilical cord
  • baby becomes stuck in the birth canal
  • injury to the baby during birth
  • infection during pregnancy including measles, rubella, cytomegalovirus and toxoplasmosis
  • jaundice in the infant that can damage the infant’s brain cells including a condition known as kernicterus
  • Rh incompatibility that can lead to the production of antibodies by the mother’s body that destroy the fetus’ blood cells and can lead to a form of jaundice in the infant

Brachial Plexus Palsy or Erb’s Palsy – these conditions can be caused by a brachial plexus injury. Such an injury involves the nerves that control muscles in the shoulder, arm, or hand. Any or all of these muscles may be partially or fully paralyzed as a result of the injury.

Possible symptoms of brachial plexus injuries include:

  • no muscle control and/or feeling in the arm or hand
  • little control over the wrist and hand
  • inability to use the shoulder or elbow muscles
  • a limp or paralyzed arm

Most brachial plexus injuries happen during birth when during the strain of childbirth the shoulder of the baby can get caught or stretched behind the Pubic Symphysis bone. In some instances, this injury is preventable and may have resulted from one of the following reasons:

  • failing to properly estimate the weight of the baby
  • failing to determine that the baby’s shoulders are too large to fit through the birth canal
  • applying excessive lateral traction to the fetal neck during delivery

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) – Group B Strep is a bacterium that is the most common cause of life-threatening infections in newborns. Babies that are affected can suffer from permanent brain damage, resulting in hearing or vision loss, mental retardation, learning disabilities, or cerebral palsy.

In some cases, GBS gets into the baby’s bloodstream, which can result in sepsis (an overwhelming infection), pneumonia, or meningitis potentially leading to disability. GBS disease should be considered in any newborn baby who demonstrates signs or symptoms of infection at birth or in the first week after birth.

Some cases of GBS may have been prevented by the administration of intravenous antibiotics to the mother at the onset of labour in which certain risk factors, such as the following are present:

  • positive culture of the mother for GBS colonization at 35-37 weeks
  • previous baby with GBS disease
  • high fever during labour
  • rupture of membranes 18 hours or more before delivery
  • labour or rupture of membranes before 37 weeks

Fetal Distress – occurs when the normal supply of blood from the mother to the fetus is diminished or interrupted, thereby reducing the baby’s blood supply and the level of oxygen being received by the baby. The baby enters a state of fetal distress and is at risk of permanent brain damage, including cerebral palsy. When fetal distress is present, immediate action must be taken in order to restore proper blood supply and oxygen to the baby. Often immediate delivery of the baby is required including the need for an emergency or “crash” cesarean section.

Often fetal distress is detected through the use of a fetal heart monitoring. The doctor or nurse is monitoring the fetal heart rate and looking for signs of condition such as:

  • fetal bradycardia
  • variable decelerations
  • accelerations
  • fetal tachycardia

A doctor, nurse or other health care provider should immediately respond to signs of fetal distress and begin treatment to eliminate the cause of the fetal distress or immediately deliver the baby often through a cesarean section.