What Constitutes a Birth Injury?19th Apr 2023
Starting a family is an exciting and anxious time.
The prospect of being a parent and all the experiences that come with having children bring a wonderful sense of hope for the future.
The first laugh. The first word. The first step.
Of course there is always a degree of nervousness: that voice in your head that questions whether you are up to the challenge. Then there’s the even quieter voice that hopes nothing goes wrong.
In the vast majority of cases nothing does go wrong. We are fortunate to live in a country where a good standard of medical care is provided to all, including expectant mothers.
However, either through quirk of genetics or a medical oversight, things can occasionally go wrong. Some problems are congenital and there’s nothing anyone could have done, it is just misfortune.
However, where mother and/or baby sustains injury either through a failure to act or failure to identify a problem, it can result in a birth injury, some of which can result in life-changing conditions or even death.
In such circumstances you need to take action.
What constitutes a birth injury?
A birth injury is any injury of diagnosable condition resulting from pregnancy or birth that was arguably identifiable and therefore treatable or preventable.
As one would expect this covers a wide range of conditions and circumstances, but can broadly be separated out into five different categories:
Brain injuries in a great deal of instances relate to the various instances when a baby experiences oxygen deprivation. This includes anoxia, hypoxia, birth asphyxia and perinatal asphyxia.
In any situation where the brain is starved of oxygen the damage can be extensive, leading to learning disabilities and conditions such as cerebral palsy. In the worst cases the injury can result in the death of the baby.
Failure to monitor foetal distress can be a deciding factor as to whether or not the baby is born without injury.
You and your baby may have been the victim of negligence if the medical team supporting your pregnancy failed to:
- Monitor, detect, and treat maternal infections.
- Plan and carry out an emergency C-section.
- Identify and treat a prolapsed umbilical cord.
- Use birth-assisting tools correctly.
Physical injuries are split into two categories prenatal and perinatal/postnatal.
During pregnancy it is entirely possible for a baby’s spine or nerves to not form correctly where limited mobility or paralysis can occur. Whilst it’s possible to identify during pregnancy – due to lack of limb movement during ultrasounds – it is not currently treatable.
However, where physical injuries are sustained to the baby either during (perinatal) or just after (postnatal) birth that include broken bones, fractured skull, bruises, lacerations or cephalohematoma, this is a blatant instance of medical negligence.
Injuries of this type – in addition to inflicting a great deal of pain on the baby – can cause long term nerve damage, physical disability or death.
In cases where the medical professional fails to act in such instances as shoulder dystocia (when the baby becomes trapped against the pelvic bone) the baby can experience difficulties breathing, a fractured collarbone, cerebral palsy, a brachial plexus fracture or even death. The mother can haemorrhage and experience a uterine rupture. In the worst cases this too can result in death.
Pre and Postnatal Injuries and Infections
It is possible for a baby to sustain an injury or infection whilst still in the womb or during birth. There are various diseases that a mother can unwittingly be a carrier of – such as meningitis – which she can pass on to her child.
Other complications developed during pregnancy include spina bifida and anaemia both of which can be prevented if identified by medical professionals and treated with supplements.
A major complication that can develop just before delivery is meconium aspiration syndrome. This occurs when the baby is under stress – sometimes from a long and difficult labour.
The condition is avoidable providing the medical team are keeping a close eye on the baby’s vital signs. However, if it does occur, the baby will defecate in the uterus and then breathe in the meconium – thick treacle-like faeces – causing severe breathing problems after birth.
In instances where the baby has sustained an avoidable or preventable condition then – again – there is a potential case for medical negligence.
Injuries During Delivery
Injuries during birth are common and typically minor, and usually don’t even require a comment let alone a complaint or legal claim.
However, there are instances when the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor are used incorrectly, causing harm to the baby.
Other injuries can result from mishandling the infant causing broken limbs, skull fractures or lacerations.
Administering the incorrect or too much medication to the mother can cause the baby’s heart rate to slow to dangerously low levels putting it at risk.
In all instances – where a medical professional has caused serious harm to your baby – you may have a case for medical negligence. Of course there are extreme cases where both mother and baby are in distress and the priority is the survival of both, but otherwise any harm inflicted to a baby by a medical professional, accidentally or not, is unacceptable.
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn or PPHN is an interruption at the moment when the vessels in the lungs start pumping oxygenated blood to the brain and other organs.
It can be caused by untreated infections during pregnancy, certain prescribed medications, or failure to detect and prevent infant asphyxia. It has also been known to be triggered by an unnecessary C-section. In most instances PPHN is preventable through considered administering of medication and diligent medical care.
"Just want to thank Lydia so much for all the help she gave us throughout our case. We know it wasn't an easy one given the circumstances of the case, but she was with us every step of the way. Every question was answered with ease, and she went through every step of the process with us. Thank you so much for helping us get the outcome we wanted. We wouldn't have been able to do it without you."
What can I do?
If your family has been affected by any of the injuries detailed above and you believe it was the fault of the attending medical professionals then you may be entitled to claim against the hospital for medical negligence.
No amount of compensation can make right the pain you or your child went through, but compensation will allow you to recover the costs that you incurred during this difficult time and pay for any ongoing support you or your child may now require.
The first step is to speak to a specialist medical negligence solicitor. They will be able to tell you if you have a strong enough case to take to court.
They’ll also take you through the process of making a claim and what you need to do to give yourself the greatest chance of success.
Our medical negligence team have been involved in many complex cases involving injuries suffered at birth, including cerebral palsy.
We are instrumental in securing early admissions of liability where possible and securing interim payments to pay for treatment, equipment and even surgeries that may be required to ensure the best in terms of outlook for these children.