By: Joseph M. Marrone, Esquire
When things go wrong during the labor or delivery of a newborn, parents face tough decisions, not only on that day, but quite possibly for a lifetime. Traumatic birth injuries are on the decline in the United States, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), but are still a devastating occurrence.
Most traumatic birth injuries happen at the hands of a physician or other healthcare worker. With the level of healthcare technology accessible to physicians, even a small number of traumatic birth injuries is too many. In 2012, there were 1.9 traumatic births per 1000 live births in the United States, according to AHRQ. Considering that there are nearly 3 million births every year in the US (according to the Center for Disease Control), 1.9 injuries per every 1000 live births equates to far too many injuries in today’s advanced healthcare culture.
Along with traumatic birth injuries, there are other devastating diseases and ailments diagnosed at birth that can be attributed to poor practices by a healthcare professional. These occurrences are wrongful birth and medication birth defects. Both can be caused by the physician you trusted during your pregnancy and delivery, and both come with lifelong consequences for you and your child.
What Is a Traumatic Birth Injury?
Traumatic birth injury is a general term used to describe any cut, broken bone or other injury to a newborn during labor or delivery. These types of injuries are more common in babies that are larger than average, especially when delivered by a mother with a small pelvis. These large babies are often given assistance to move through the birth canal by the physician. In some situations, the physician simply uses their hands to apply force to move the baby. In other instances, the physician must use forceps or a vacuum extractor to move the baby through the birth canal. All of these methods apply external force to the delicate skull of the infant, increasing the potential of a traumatic birth injury.
In rare instances, infants also may suffer injuries related to being dropped after birth. Other forms of traumatic birth injuries can occur due to any blunt trauma, mistakes made during C-sections or excessive contractions caused by too much medication.
Common Traumatic Birth Injuries
- Cephalohematoma – An accumulation of blood in the space between the periosteum and skull of an infant that can cause blood vessels to rupture. Cephalohematoma is most commonly caused by the use of a vacuum extractor.
- Injuries to tissue or bone – Bruising or broken bones are often caused by a forceful delivery in which forceps or a vacuum were used. Common bones broken are in the face, head, arms and legs. Broken bones can also occur if the baby is dropped.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage – Bleeding that occurs when small vessels in the baby’s eyes break. This can be caused by the force of moving through the birth canal, or may be caused by the use of force, such as when forceps or vacuum extractor are used in births.
- Brachial plexus injury – The brachial plexus is a network of nerves connecting the spinal cord to the arms and hands. Brachial plexus injuries occur when the infant becomes stuck in the birth canal and the physician tugs on the baby’s hand or arm in an effort to deliver the baby. This pulling can tear the nerves and cause permanent nerve damage to the infant’s arms or hands.
- Bell’s Palsy – When the infant’s facial nerves are damaged from the use of a vacuum, forceps or force, the infant may suffer from Bell’s Palsy. The infant will have difficulty moving the side of their face in which the damage occurred.
- Oxygen deprivation – An infant who suffers from a total lack of oxygen or anoxia during labor or birth can have serious life-long health problems. A depleted flow of oxygen to the infant’s brain often damages the cerebellum, negatively affecting control over bodily functions. This damage can ultimately lead to cerebral palsy, a neuromuscular disorder that causes problems with movement, muscle tone and posture. The longer the infant is deprived of oxygen, the more severe and long-term the effects may be, affecting not only the infant’s birth, but also their quality of life.
All of these types of traumatic birth injuries have one thing in common: They can cause long-term effects to the infant. Injuries suffered at birth can affect the infant’s physical and psychological health as they grow. Their ability to control bodily functions may be compromised. They may suffer from the loss of any one of their senses. Common long-term effects of traumatic birth injuries include, but are not limited to the following:
- Attention deficit disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Behavioral problems
- Cerebral palsy
- Delayed developmental milestones
- Delayed or absent language skills
- Hearing loss
- Sensory processing disorder
- Vision loss
Wrongful birth occurs when the infant is born with a long-term, life altering genetic or congenital abnormality. In wrongful birth cases, you, as the parents, are not afforded the ability to make an informed decision as to continue the pregnancy. This could occur if your physician did not run the appropriate tests to diagnose the disease, or if they failed to inform you of the results of prenatal testing. Wrongful birth lawsuits can also occur if the physician failed to provide adequate genetic counseling to parents who were predisposed to having an infant with a genetic disorder. This lack of knowledge takes away your ability to make an informed decision regarding the life of the child.
Wrongful birth has long term consequences for the infant and parents. Many of these infants spend the first days of their life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The infant may need assistance to breathe and medications to sustain life. These infants likely grow into children with special needs.
Medication Birth Defects
Medication birth defects can occur when a mother is taking a medication that causes negative effects to the developing baby during the developmental phases of fetal growth. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90% of women take at least one medication during pregnancy, and 70% take at least one prescription drug. The CDC also reports a 60% increase in the use of prescriptions drugs in the first trimester over the last 30 years. The true problem arises when mothers are not properly informed of the possible dangers of these medications to their fetus during or immediately before pregnancy.
The US Food and Drug Administration categorizes medications based on risk to the mother and fetus during pregnancy. This change to the FDA came after a drug by the name of thalidomide, a sleeping pill, was found to cause birth defects in thousands of infants born in western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Following this discovery, the FDA banned the use of thalidomide in the US in 1962. This started the movement of government and public support for strong regulation of the drug industry. Today, with the classification of drugs, mothers are given more knowledge about the dangers of prescription medications.
Common Medications That Cause Serious Birth Defects
- Accutane – Acne medication
- Ace inhibitors – Blood pressure medication
- Clomid – Fertility medication
- Diflucan – Antifungal medication
- Zofran – Anti-nausea medication
- Depakote, Tegretol and Topmax – Anticonvulsant medication
- Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin and Zoloft – Anti-depressant medication
- Codeine, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone – Narcotics
If your child has suffered a traumatic birth injury, wrongful birth or medication birth defect, you and your child have rights. It is imperative that you speak with a qualified attorney to discuss any issues you experienced with your pregnancy or your infant’s condition. The Marrone Law Firm has a team of skilled Wrongful Birth/Birth Injury attorneys ready to provide the legal support and proficiency you need during this difficult time.
While you may still be making decisions about the long-term effects of this devastating injury to your child, we can help advocate for your child through birth and for years to come. The Marrone Law Firm is here to support you and offer you the advice you need to make informed decisions about your rights and your child’s rights. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation as a step toward getting the representation you need for your child’s future.
Marrone Law Firm, LLC
Marrone Law Firm, LLC at The Bellevue
200 South Broad Street, Suite 400
Philadelphia, PA 19102
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