Most of the time, childbirth is a time of great joy and excitement for new parents, along with their friends and loved ones. Bringing a new human being into the world is an extraordinary experience that can change the course of a person’s life forever. Unfortunately, in some cases, children may be harmed by preventable birth injuries that can have lifelong consequences. In this article, we discuss some of the most common causes of birth injuries in the United States and what their effects can be.
What is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury takes the form of damage to a newborn during the birthing process, frequently due to the physical pressure exerted on the baby. Illness, difficult labor, or even the child’s size may also play a role in whether they are likely to suffer a birth injury. In some cases, birth injuries may occur due to medical malpractice.
Many birth injuries resolve without treatment and do not cause any long-term health problems, but others can result in debilitating neurological or physical conditions. The most dangerous types of birth injuries impact the brain or neck and can potentially cause serious medical conditions like brain damage or erb’s palsy.
Possible Maternal Conditions Resulting in a Birth Injury
Some birth injuries are caused by maternal conditions that increase the risk of a complicated or dangerous childbirth. Medical professionals may be able to successfully mitigate the risk of known maternal conditions that could cause complications, such as:
- Difficult labor or delivery: A fetus that is awkwardly positioned or cervix that does not expand normally may result in a difficult labor. These conditions make it more challenging to safely and correctly deliver the child.
- Prolonged labor: A longer-than-usual labor process can heighten the risk of birth injuries, as a child may be left in an awkward position or deprived of sufficient oxygen for an amount of time.
- Incorrect pelvis size or shape: When a woman’s pelvis shape makes it more challenging to give birth, the child may twist or move about in a way that dangerously reduces their oxygen intake.
Possible Infant Conditions Resulting in a Birth Injury
In some cases, there is no pre-existing condition on the mother’s side that would cause delivery to be dangerous for the baby. There may, however, be underlying medical conditions with the infant that can lead to a complex delivery or birth injury. Infant conditions that can result in a birth injury include:
- Heavier infants: In general, it is more challenging to deliver a heavy baby and the process may be more likely to cause harm.
- Premature birth: A baby born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy) may be at higher risk of injury since the child’s nervous system and muscles did not have enough time to fully develop.
- Abnormal fetal position at birth: Infants born in an abnormal position, whether buttocks-first, head-up, or in a breech position, may be at heightened risk of injury.
Additional Issues Leading to Birth Injuries
Determining what conditions are most likely to cause complications during a child’s birth and working to safely prevent them is essential during delivery. A failure to act in the best interests of the parent and child can lead to a potentially fatal situation or lifelong medical complications.
Birth injuries are commonly caused due to prolonged labor, which is deemed labor lasting longer than eighteen hours. As a delayed birth progresses, pressure continually increases on the infant’s brain. As a result, the child may develop elevated blood pressure or even suffer fatal distress. High blood pressure can also cause a range of other complications, ranging from cardiovascular problems to a stroke.
Lack of Oxygen
Oxygen deprivation is a potentially life-threatening problem that results in a significant number of brain-related birth injuries. In some cases, the underlying condition may be birth asphyxia. Some of the common causes of oxygen deprivation are a prolapsed umbilical cord or lungs that did not fully develop, which can be a complication of a premature birth. While an unsafe lack of oxygen can cause a range of problems, severe brain injuries are perhaps the most worrisome.
The incorrect or excessive use of force during delivery can lead to otherwise-preventable injuries to the baby or mother. Doctors and medical professionals are carefully trained to anticipate and react to challenges during the birthing process. Impatient and inexperienced doctors can put the child or mother at risk of serious bodily harm by misinterpreting data or causing blunt force trauma.
Vacuum or forceps extractions can cause a child to go through oxygen deprivation during delivery, which can potentially cause a preventable brain injury. Medical staff may also fail to correctly monitor the mother’s vitals, missing critical problems such as low oxygen flow to the infant’s brain.
Can Birth Injuries Be Prevented?
In some cases, a birth injury may occur despite the dedicated attempts of medical professionals to manage the delivery process. However, many birth injuries occur due to preventable conditions or mistakes by a doctor or hospital staff. To most effectively protect the mother and child, it’s essential that:
- Proper prenatal care is provided
- Signs of fetal distress are promptly detected and treated
- Premature birth is avoided when possible, and risks are managed when it is inevitable
- C-section delivery is used if needed
- Babies receive proper care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
We hope this article has thoroughly explained some of the common risk factors for birth injuries in the U.S. Understanding the potential problems that can occur during childbirth hopefully brings us closer to a future where we can act to prevent birth injuries entirely.