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Parents can pursue justice civilly for birth injuries

Victor Lewin - Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fortunately, with today's medical and technological advances, most pregnancies progress without serious complications and culminate in healthy bundles of joy. However, for a smaller subset of parents, happiness is marred by trauma to their infants during labour and delivery. Some of the most common risk factors for birth injuries are listed below:

  • Premature delivery. Infants born prior to 37 weeks are more easily injured during labour and delivery because of their fragility.
  • Bigger babies. Infants with a birth weight greater than 8 lbs., 13 ounces have higher risks of trauma.
  • Abnormal birth position. A breech birth, with the baby's buttocks arriving first, can be dangerous.
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion. This term is used when the mother's pelvic region is inadequate for a vaginal birth.
  • Extended labour. Long labours endanger both the mother and the fetus.

Not all of the above conditions result in injuries to the infants or mothers. However, when they do occur, the injuries can be permanent and disabling. Common traumatic birth injuries include:

  • Facial paralysis. Pressure from forceps on an infant's face can cause tears to the facial nerves, necessitating surgery. Sometimes the paralysis is permanent.
  • Cephalohematoma. A lump can form on top of the baby's head from bleeding beneath the cranial bones. It may take a few hours to develop and last for weeks or months.
  • Caput succedaneum. When a vacuum extraction is used in delivery, the soft scalp tissue can swell and bruise significantly.
  • Brachial palsy. If the nerves connected with the infant's hands and arms are injured, this condition can result. Shoulder dystocia is one form of this condition. It is caused by problems with the baby's shoulders passing through the birth canal. Torn brachial plexus nerves can result in permanent damage to the nerves as well as a loss of rotation and flexion of the affected arm.

While not all birth injuries can be avoided, many are due to medical errors and misdiagnoses by obstetricians and midwives. When egregious errors or negligence are the culprit, parents of the injured or deceased baby have a right to seek financial compensation for their loss.

Source: Stanford Children's Health, "Birth Injury," accessed Sep. 18, 2015

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