A birth injury is any type of harm to a baby that occurs during or near the time of birth. Many can be the causes, including fetal oxygen deprivation, trauma from impact during delivery, premature birth, med/ical negligence, and more. These injuries can impair the baby’s internal systems, with impacts ranging from mild bruising and lacerations to permanent injury or lifelong disability.
Anoxia: this is where a baby is completely deprived of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain may cause brain injury and just a few minutes without oxygen may be enough to have a lifelong impact.
Hypoxia: This is where there is a decreased flow of oxygen to the brain. A reduction in the supply of oxygen to the baby’s brain even for just a few minutes may be enough to have a lifelong impact.
Physical trauma to the head: physical damage to the baby’s neck or head can cause brain injury. For example, improper use of instruments such as forceps or ventouse can cause damage to a baby’s brain.
Infections and health problems in the mother: if a mother suffers a health problem before or during pregnancy it can affect the baby’s health, and depending on the nature of the problem, it could cause brain injury to her baby. Caregivers must recognize health problems in a mother and offer timely and appropriate treatment.
Shoulder dystocia: is a rare complication that occurs during delivery. It can happen during vaginal delivery and affects about 1 in every 150 deliveries. Shoulder dystocia occurs when the baby’s head is born but one shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone. Shoulder dystocia is not a birth injury in its own right, but if not managed appropriately it can cause injury to the baby. Shoulder dystocia can damage the nerves in a baby’s neck, causing temporary or permanent loss of movement in the arm (Erb’s palsy). Minor injuries may heal in time but in major nerve injury cases, there can be permanent damage to the arm.
Obstetric brachial plexus injury (BPI): occurs when the nerves in the baby’s neck are damaged during delivery. The result of such an injury is a loss of movement and sensation in the arm.
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves around the shoulder, which controls movement and sensation throughout the shoulder, arm, and hand. Nerve damage can occur if the nerves are stretched, compressed or (in severe cases) separated from the spinal cord. In severe cases, brachial plexus injury can cause permanent damage to the arm. The most common type of brachial plexus injury is called Erb’s palsy that normally affects the shoulder and the upper arm. It can cause partial or complete paralysis of the arm, weakness of the arm resolves within a short period.
Broken bones during delivery: babies are at risk of broken bones (fractures) during labor and delivery. Fractures in the collar bone are the most common type of fracture babies suffer during delivery. Rarer types of fracture include the skull, the arm, and the spine.
Common causes of fractures during delivery include:
- Excessive twisting or pulling of the baby during delivery;
- Improper use of instruments, such as forceps
- Shoulder dystocia.
- Babies with bone diseases are particularly at risk of fractures. Certain types of bone diseases can be detected on ultrasound scanning but this is not possible in every case, particularly if the symptoms are mild.
Some fractures are unavoidable, as birth can be physically tough on mother and baby. Sometimes, the natural force of a mother’s contractions as the baby is delivered is enough to cause a fracture. Fortunately, this is rare and with proper treatment, babies should make a full and speedy recovery.
Stillbirth and neonatal death: birth injuries can be so severe that they cause the baby to be stillborn. In other cases, the baby might survive for a short time but sadly die soon after birth. In some cases, the cause of death is not known.
Losing a baby is a devastating and traumatic event. It can be incredibly difficult for bereaved parents and their families to come to terms with what’s happened. Most parents want to know what happened during their baby’s birth, and the reason why their baby did not survive.
If a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after delivery, it can be difficult for doctors to establish the exact cause of death. A post-mortem (autopsy) might be recommended. In some cases, where the cause of death isn’t clear, the coroner may order a post-mortem.
Potential causes of stillbirth and neonatal (newborn) death include:
- Meconium aspiration syndrome
- Umbilical cord prolapse
- Placental abruption
- Placenta praevia
- Severe hypoxia
- Traumatic injury before or during delivery
- Severe infection
- Complications due to premature birth or low birth weight
- A developmental or genetic problem which means the baby could not survive outside of the womb.
Unfortunately, 7,000 babies die each year in the world and a large percentage of this figure belongs to the United States, the causes complications in childbirth and postpartum, which was not dealt with well by the doctors. Research suggests that many of these deaths can be avoided with better care.
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