There is a reason why birth injuries are considered catastrophic injuries. The process of childbirth is a very delicate process where mother, baby, or both can suffer harm during labor and delivery. Even though some birth injuries can stem from a high-risk pregnancy, medical professionals can act negligently during the delivery process, causing severe birth injuries. Some birth injuries are so dangerous that they result in infant deaths.
Some of the birth injuries that can cause wrongful death include:
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). When a baby’s oxygen and blood supply to the baby’s brain is severely reduced during the childbirth process, the baby’s brain cells are liable to die within a short period. HIE can cause babies to experience permanent brain damage, developing conditions like cerebral palsy, in a best case scenario; worst case scenario, the baby will die. Some of the symptoms of severe HIE are irregular breathing, extreme seizures that increase periodically in the first two days, abnormal heart rate and blood pressure, and a lack of response to external stimuli.
- Respiratory distress syndrome. Respiratory distress syndrome is a birth injury that occurs due to immature lung development. Premature babies who are born at least six weeks or more before their due dates are most at risk of developing respiratory distress syndrome. Some of the symptoms of this birth injury include fast breathing immediately after birth, a grunting “ugh” sound after each breath, chest retractions, and a flaring of the nostrils with each breath.
- Severe skull fracture. This occurs when certain instruments are used in delivery. When healthcare professionals use too much force with forceps or a vacuum extractor, the baby can experience severe skull fractures. Some of the physical signs of a severe skull fracture include a lump, depression on the head, or swelling. Depressed skull fractures can cause serious complications for infants, including death.
- Intracranial hemorrhage. Intracranial hemorrhage is a birth injury that is caused either by oxygen deprivation or an excessive amount of force on a baby’s head. With an intracranial hemorrhage, bleeding occurs inside the brain. Some of the signs that a baby is experiencing bleeding of the brain include lethargy, irritability, shallow breathing, abnormal tone, and feeding difficulties. Intracranial hemorrhage can be caused by prolonged labor trauma, HIE, or abnormal changes in blood pressure.
- Intraventricular hemorrhage. Infants suffer this birth injury when bleeding happens in the fluid-filled areas, known as ventricles, surrounded by the brain. Just like intracranial hemorrhage, this type of birth injury often happens with premature infants. The smaller the infant, the greater the risk for intraventricular hemorrhage. Some of the symptoms include pauses in breathing, a decreased muscle tone, excessive sleep, a weak suck, and decreased reflexes. Infants who are born 10 weeks or more before their actual due date are most at risk of developing this birth injury.
Other conditions which can prove fatal to the baby (and potentially the mother, too) include:
- Newborn jaundice. Some birth injuries can be fatal if not detected early, including newborn jaundice. Newborn jaundice is a liver condition that causes yellow skin and eyes. Common causes include infection, medications, an immature liver, or blood disorders. If the newborn jaundice is not properly treated by pediatricians, it can lead to more life-threatening disorders like kernicterus. Babies who suffer from kernicterus are at risk of suffering from permanent brain damage, for which there is no effective medical treatment.
- Uterine rupture. Uterine rupture is a birth injury where the mother’s uterine walls or the lining of the uterus is torn open. This rupture happens abruptly and without any warning. When this happens, amniotic fluid can leak out of the womb, causing the baby to experience severe oxygen deprivation. The oxygen deprivation can cause serious brain damage or death. The baby’s life is in danger the minute that the uterus ruptures. This is also very dangerous for the mom, as she can hemorrhage as a result.
- Placental abruption. Similar to a uterine rupture, a placental abruption is a birth injury that happens when the placenta detaches from the inner wall of the uterus during labor and delivery. When the placenta separates from the inner wall, it can block the baby’s supply of oxygen, making it difficult for the baby to obtain oxygen and nutrients. Some of the symptoms of placental abruption include abdominal pain, back pain, uterine contractions, or vaginal bleeding. The complications of a placental abruption can cause a stillbirth.
What makes birth injuries catastrophic injuries?
Birth injuries are considered catastrophic injuries because of they require ongoing care and lifelong medical treatment. Even though these injuries can occur within minutes, they can affect a baby’s health for the rest of their life. Healthcare professionals can cause a birth injury when their negligence leads to emergencies like oxygen deprivation, which can cause a baby to become permanently disabled. In some cases, a birth injury can lead to the death of the child.