A new addition to the family is supposed to be an exhilarating and joyful experience for parents and family. On rare occasions, childbirth can be traumatic: in the United States, an estimated 7 babies born per 1,000 suffer from a birth injury. A birth injury or birth trauma is simply an injury to the infant caused by the birth process. These injuries can be temporary, like bruises or fractures, or permanent, like paralysis.
How Does A Birth Injury Happen?
Many factors can contribute to the occurrence of a birth injury. The birthing process is complicated. Issues come up that can’t be anticipated, although some injuries can be avoided with proper care. The situations that may lead to injury include:
- Infant is large – 8 pounds, 13 ounces and heavier
- A Caesarian delivery
- Premature birth
- The need for a forceps or vacuum in delivery
- Infant in a position in the birth canal other than head-first
- Very long or difficult labor
Mother’s pelvis or birth canal size and shape are anomalous (i.e. too narrow for size of infant’s head)
- Bruises, fractures and broken blood vessels: smaller, temporary bruises can occur to the head and rest of body from methods and instruments used to deliver, including forceps. Collarbone fractures during difficult or breech delivery are also very common and heal relatively quickly. A baby can also have broken blood vessels in the skin and eyes from the birth process- although it may look very serious, the blood should disappear back into the body in just a few days.
- Caput succedaneum: after the baby passes through the birth canal, some serious swelling and bruising can present in the soft tissues of the head. This can occur during a difficult delivery or when a vacuum is used for delivery. This swelling around the scalp is temporary.
- Cephalo-hematoma: an area around the cranial bones can swell due to bleeding, which can cause a visible swollen area on the infant’s head. Eventually, the blood is reabsorbed back into the body. The visible lump can last from two weeks to three months.
- Shoulder Dystocia: when there is difficulty delivering the infant because the shoulders can’t get past the mother’s pelvis. Because of the extra force needed to deliver the baby’s shoulders, this can cause damage to the nerves, resulting in paralysis or shaking (see Brachial Palsy below). Generally, this condition will fade within a year after birth.
- Facial Palsy: pressure from passing through the birth canal on the infant’s face can cause temporary facial paralysis. This can be identified once the baby cries – some muscles won’t quite move. Bruises to the nerve will result in short-term paralysis. If the nerves are torn, this can result in permanent damage and may require surgery.
- Brachial Palsy: including Erb’s Palsy and Klumpke’s Palsy. This injury occurs when Brachial plexus nerves in the arm are damaged or severed entirely. This can happen during delivery due to Shoulder Dystocia – the nerves can be damaged, causing temporary paralysis. If the nerves are torn, the damage and paralysis can be permanent. Erb’s Palsy, which can be mild to severe, affects the Brachial Plexus nerves in the upper arm, while Klumpke’s Palsy affects the lower nerves.
- Cerebral Palsy: a common malady in the United States, Cerebral Palsy is a condition where the motor skills are impacted when the brain develops abnormally or the brain is injured before, during or shortly after the birth process. The effects can be mild or severe, are permanent and include limited or erratic movement, poor coordination, and weak reflexes.