Birth Injury Risk Factors

As you patiently await the arrival of your child, a mixture of excitement and slight trepidation is common. With so much anticipation, you may want to focus solely on the perfect little being you are preparing to bring into the world. The idea that something could go wrong may be the furthest thing from your mind. It is important during this time to know the risk factors associated with birth injuries because knowledge is power. By being aware of any factors that may place you and your child at risk, you can discuss your physician’s plan of action. It is the doctor’s responsibility to recognize potential risks associated with your pregnancy, plan appropriately to mitigate these risks, and react immediately if circumstances place you or your child in danger. Failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.

Risk Factors for Birth Trauma

Significant birth injury occurs in approximately 6 to 8 out of every 1000 live births. Nearly 50 percent of birth injuries are potentially avoidable if doctors identify risk factors and anticipate necessary measures to prevent harm to the mother and baby. Some of the prevailing risk factors associated with birth injury include:

Fetal Size

Any deviation from average size on the part of the baby can place them at an increased risk for birth injury. For instance, premature babies or “preemies” are more prone to birth injuries because they are very fragile and some of their body may be underdeveloped. Babies born before 37 weeks gestation are considered premature. These infants are more likely to experience broken bones, swelling under the scalp known as caput succedaneum, as well as oxygen deprivation which may cause hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Often, premature infants also meet the criteria for low birth weight, which is yet another risk factor for serious birth injuries. When a baby is unusually small for the stage of gestation, they may be diagnosed with a condition called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).

Babies who are larger than average size for their gestational age are also at a higher risk for birth injuries. This condition, known as fetal macrosomia, is generally characterized by a birth weight over 8 pounds, 13 ounces. An associated condition called cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD) may occur when the baby is too large or the mother’s pelvis is too small. In other words, CPD occurs when there is a discrepancy between the size of the baby and the size and shape of the mother’s pelvis. If a doctor fails to recognize this condition, they may attempt to deliver the child vaginally. Pulling the child through the birth canal under these circumstances can cause serious injury.

Instrumental Deliveries

Instrumental deliveries, also known as assisted deliveries, can exacerbate birth injuries or simply cause birth injury when used improperly. The primary tools used during instrumental deliveries are forceps and vacuum extractors. Forceps are instruments used to apply traction to the baby’s head and guide it through the birth canal. Improper placement of forceps on an infant’s head can cause severe harm to the skull and/or brain. On the other hand, vacuum extraction is an assisted delivery technique involving the application of a vacuum (essentially a cup with a handle and a vacuum pump) to the baby’s head to pull it through the birth canal. Vacuum extraction errors can result in the shoulder becoming stuck behind the mother’s pelvis after the head has been delivered. This can lead to brachial plexus injuries and Erb’s Palsy. Also, inappropriate use of vacuum extractors may cause skull fractures and intracranial hemorrhages (brain bleed injuries).

Abnormal Delivery Presentation

There are two terms often used to describe how a baby is situated inside the womb prior to birth. Position refers to whether the fetus is face down (toward the mother’s back) or face up (toward her stomach). Presentation refers to the part of the baby’s body that will come first through the birth canal. Typically, babies are delivered head first, also known as cephalic presentation. Ideally, the baby will be head first and face down. When the baby is in an abnormal presentation or position, this can make labor more difficult and increase the possibility of birth injury. Some of the abnormal birth presentations include face, brow, breech, and shoulder. Doctors can determine the baby’s presentation and if necessary, perform a C-section. This doesn’t entirely rule out the potential for a birth injury but can help alleviate these risks.

Birth Injury Risks and Medical Negligence in New Jersey

If any of the risk factors explained above or others place your baby at greater risk for harm, your doctor should develop a plan that minimizes these risks. Medical errors during labor and delivery such as delivering a baby that is too large or doesn’t fit through the birth canal, using instruments improperly, pulling too hard or causing excessive traction with inaccurate maneuvers, or allowing labor to go on for too long can cause undue stress to the child and may cause irreversible damage.

If your child suffered a birth injury due to inappropriate management of birth injury risks in the New Jersey area, it is highly advisable to speak with attorney as soon as possible. An experienced birth injury lawyer can explain how you can pursue damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering. Contact us now at (866)-708-8617 or online for a free consultation. With offices in Newark, NJ and New York, NY, we assist clients in Morristown, Paterson, Mountainside, Neptune, Bayonne, Hackensack, and beyond.

Resources: Birth Trauma, Medscape; Abnormal Position and Presentation of the Fetus, Merck Manual

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