Childbirth is usually a safe, natural process. However, it is not without risks. Expectant mothers depend on proper medical care to bring their children into the world. If a medical professional neglects their duty, mothers and newborns can suffer debilitating or life-threatening damage.
If your baby has sustained a serious birth injury, you need a strong advocate by your side. At Lopez McHugh, our compassionate birth injury lawyers in Philadelphia have years of experience. While no amount of compensation can make up for the pain your family has suffered, it can help ease the financial burden.
What is a Birth Injury?
Giving birth is a miraculous, life-changing experience. While the occasion is typically joyous, it can quickly turn devastating if a complication arises during labor and delivery. Hospital providers are specially trained to deal with each and every outcome. However, there are occasions when training falls short.
When a medical professional makes a critical, negligent error that injures a child during labor or delivery, it is considered a birth injury. Birth injuries are often debilitating, requiring lifelong specialized care.
What are the Most Common Types of Birth Injuries Associated with Medical Malpractice?
Birth injuries are devastating. In many cases, the damage could have been prevented. The following birth injuries are most commonly associated with medical negligence:
Cerebral Palsy (CP)
Cerebral Palsy is the result of damage to the developing brain. Typically, trauma occurs when there is a lack of oxygen to the brain during labor. Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy include a baby or child’s inability to lift their head at an appropriate developmental stage, stiffness in a baby’s joints or muscles, uncontrolled movement in limbs, and poor muscle tone resulting in heavy limbs.
Brachial Plexus Injuries
Brachial plexus, also known as neonatal brachial plexus palsy (BPP), refers to injuries to the brachial plexus nerve group. This group supplies the arms and hands with feeling and movement. An injury to the brachial plexus nerve group during delivery can cause bruising, swelling, and the loss of movement in a newborn’s arms, shoulders, and hands.
A newborn’s frame is fragile due to ongoing development. Even a minor medical error can cause lifelong injuries. The damage may be temporary or permanent, requiring intense physical therapy and ongoing medical treatment throughout the child’s development.
Erb’s Palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury that damages the main group of nerves in a newborn’s arm. The nerves sit in the upper trunk C5-C6 area. The damage can range from mild to serious, depending on the severity of the injury.
Most cases of Erb’s Palsy occur when the doctor uses too much force during delivery, stretching the neck. However, nerve damage can happen with excessive pulling or twisting during birth. The affected nerves can create weakness or paralysis, resulting in the loss of muscle function in the baby’s arm. Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy may include the following:
- Limited motion in the shoulder, bicep, elbow, forearm, or hand
- Weakened grip
Over time, some injured newborns can make a full recovery. Unfortunately, many experience lifelong problems.
Forceps or a Vacuum Assisted Delivery
Forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery could be required depending on the birth situation. Both delivery methods can cause severe injury to the mother and the child.
During childbirth, a physician may use a medical vacuum or a pair of forceps to deliver the baby. After placing the vacuum or forceps on the baby’s head, doctors gently pull the baby out of the birth canal.
Doctors who use too much force during this process can inflict devastating injuries to a child, inhibiting development. Newborns may be left with permanent injuries that require long-term medical care, special education, and physical therapy.
Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) occurs when the baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen or blood flow during labor or delivery. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. After five minutes, newborns suffer extensive brain damage leading to developmental delays and permanent intellectual disabilities.
Medical professionals must act quickly to restore the supply of oxygen to the newborn’s brain. Symptoms of HIE include:
- Weak muscle tone
- Problems breathing
- Slow reflexes
- Trouble eating
- Abnormal movement
- Decreased alertness
HIE can happen during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or after birth. Medical negligence can lead to HIE when the doctor fails to notice signs of fetal distress or improperly treats the mother during pregnancy.
Why is Childbirth So Dangerous?
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of how dangerous the birth process can be. While it is natural, human childbirth has more risks and is more painful than the birth process for other mammals.
According to a recent study, labor and delivery are more complex and painful due to walking upright. Babies must navigate a small, intricate birth canal. They must bend and turn their heads at different phases of the delivery process. In addition, a newborn baby’s head is extremely delicate and underdeveloped. This can lead to a wide array of complications, including:
- Extended labor, which may deprive the baby of oxygen or cause physical injuries
- Severe bleeding, generally after giving birth
- High blood pressure
- Greater risk of infection
- Greater risk of stillbirths and maternal death
The study concludes that the majority of dangers associated with childbirth are preventable or curable with proper medical care.
How Common Are Preventable Birth Injuries?
Childbirth is a highly complex and painful process. Unlike other mammals, human birth is uniquely difficult. Women frequently experience complications during and after pregnancy and delivery.
An estimated 830 women die every day from problems during pregnancy or childbirth. In addition, for every death, an average of 25 women will experience injury, infection, or become disabled due to a birth injury.
Infant mortality and injury rates are also high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 20,000 babies died in the last reporting year. The leading causes of infant mortality are largely preventable.
The rate of preterm births has increased by four percent. According to records, one out of every 10 newborns is born prematurely. When a baby is born before 37 weeks, the lungs, liver, and brain have not had time to fully develop, leading to a host of life-threatening problems. Preterm babies who survive are often plagued with the following:
- Difficulty breathing or eating
- Vision and hearing problems
- Developmental delays
- Cerebral Palsy
The rise in preterm births over the last few years is typically associated with inadequate prenatal care, infections, and giving birth over the age of 35. When doctors fail to diagnose or treat, newborns and mothers suffer.
The CDC report also shows an estimated seven out of 1,000 newborns suffer a birth injury. A recent study analyzed cases of physical trauma to a newborn during the delivery process, showing:
- Bodily damage to infants during birth has increased by 23 percent over 11 years
- 80 percent of all birth injuries were related to damage to the scalp
- The average hospital stay for a newborn increased by 56 percent due to complications
Other common injuries included clavicular fractures, brain hemorrhages, and nerve damage.
Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality. A birth defect is characterized by a structural change in the newborn’s body that affects how their body works and looks. While birth defects are typically associated with genetic causes, research has shown that medical malpractice plays a significant part in the potential risks.
According to the CDC report:
- One in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect
- 20 percent of all infant deaths are associated with a birth defect
The leading negligent medical actions associated with birth defects include:
- Prescribing dangerous medication during pregnancy
- Not advising expectant mothers of the risks
- Failure to perform tests properly or reading the results incorrectly
- Misdiagnosing the patient
- Failing to act promptly if monitors indicate fetal danger
- Failing to perform a C-section when necessary
- Improperly performing a C-section
- Anesthesia errors
- Failing to use delivery aids properly
In addition, doctors and other medical personnel can fail to evaluate the situation properly. For example, assuming a mother complaining about severe pain is exaggerating when it is an indication of a larger problem.
Complications During Pregnancy
Most birth defects and injuries can be prevented with proper medical care during pregnancy. Women rely on their doctors to help them have safe pregnancies. Expectant mothers need to be informed of the following:
- How lifestyle choices may affect their pregnancy
- What are common pregnancy systems versus an indication that something may be wrong
- If they are at risk for certain conditions like preeclampsia or anemia
- How medications may impact pregnancy
- What to expect during labor and delivery
- If the fetus is developing normally or if there are signs of problems
When medical personnel fail to respect mothers and warn them of the dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth, mothers and infants can suffer life-threatening complications.
How Medical Negligence Can Lead to Birth Injuries
Most birth injuries can be prevented with proper medical care. Typically, there are warning signs that something may be wrong with the mother or baby.
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals have years of education and training wherein they learned how to act quickly when complications in childbirth arise. In addition, they have specialized monitoring equipment to track the fetal heartbeat, the mother’s blood pressure, and the frequency of contractions. When medical personnel fail to act, the consequences can be severe.
Negligence During Pregnancy
Prenatal care is essential during pregnancy. Various tests and regular checkups will assess potential risks and help expectant mothers ensure a healthy pregnancy. However, medical negligence can happen when a doctor fails to diagnose or warn of a possible complication that can affect the mother and/or child.
For example, if a medical professional fails to diagnose, warn, or treat the following conditions, it can lead to serious consequences for the mother and baby:
- Preeclampsia (i.e., high blood pressure)
- Geriatric pregnancy
- Rh-negative blood type
Preventative care is critical to obtaining the proper treatment. However, some complications do not present themselves until after a mother has gone into labor.
Negligence During Labor and Delivery
Labor and delivery is a complex, painful process. Medical professionals are specially trained to look for signs of fetal distress and complications with the mother, including:
- Abnormal pain associated with labor
- Compressed umbilical cord
- Prolapsed umbilical cord (i.e., when the umbilical cord is outside the body before the baby)
- Prolonged labor
- Maternal infection
- A small maternal pelvic size that requires a C-section
- Detached placenta
- Water is not fully broken despite labor
- When a baby is stuck in the birth canal
- If a baby is not facing the correct way
- Abnormal bleeding
- Abnormal fetal heart rate
- High maternal blood pressure
Acts of negligence can occur in a variety of ways. A doctor may fail to warn a mother of the associated risks of using forceps or a vacuum to aid in the delivery. The doctor may misuse the forceps or use too much force. In other cases, doctors may dismiss a patient’s complaints of unusual labor pain and other symptoms that indicate fetal distress.
What Compensation Can a Birth Injury Lawyer in Philadelphia Recover for My Case?
Birth injuries are typically the result of medical malpractice. Families are entitled to recover damages for their injuries, including but not limited to:
- Compensation for medical expenses
- Long-term medical care
- Pain and suffering damages
- Emotional distress
Every case is different. To learn what damages your case may qualify to recover, consult a birth injury attorney in Philadelphia.
Why You Need a Philadelphia Birth Injury Lawyer
Bringing a child into the world is supposed to be a joyous occasion that marks the beginning of life and a new chapter for a family. When complications during childbirth result in injury or death, the pain felt by parents and loved ones is unimaginable.
No parent should be left to cope with a child’s serious injury due to the negligent actions of a trusted medical professional. If your baby has suffered a preventable birth injury, the experienced medical malpractice attorneys of Lopez McHugh have the skills and resources you need.
Contact a Philadelphia birth injury lawyer for a free consultation today to discuss the details of your case. We will fight for your family and secure the compensation you deserve.