birth injuries

Perhaps one of the most miraculous and life-altering experiences is to be able to witness the birth of a newborn. This journey of 9 months is a true example of just how resilient and strong the human body can be. With every push and cry, a new human takes their first breath proving that life prevails under all circumstances and that nature comes above all.

While this phenomenon is indeed a magnificent display of the power held by Mother Nature, it is pretty dangerous. Even today, with all our advanced technology, many childbirths result in harm to both the baby and the mother. Some of these conditions are a result of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. But a significant chunk of these injuries is avoidable since they occur because of improper handling, medical negligence, or malpractice.

What is a birth injury?

Birth injuries can be defined as any trauma the baby suffers before, during, or immediately after birth. The exertion of labor often results in minor injuries, especially to larger infants. These don’t require treatment and can heal on their own. But some wounds can lead to complications that can disable a child for a lifetime. Often people confuse birth injuries of newborn children with congenital disabilities (birth defects). In reality, the two terms aren’t synonymous. Both have different causes and progress differently.

A congenital disability arises while the fetus is still in the womb and usually develops within the first trimester. Excess alcohol and drug consumption, untreated ailments, and family medical history play a significant role in the development of these conditions. In contrast, birth injuries are wounds or physical trauma that result from mechanical forces like compression, pressure, and traction during the stressful process of childbirth.

If detected early, professionals can help your infant recover before the trauma causes any irreversible physiological alteration. For your ease, we have compiled a list of common injuries and their symptoms so that you know which signs to look out for.

Brain damage

Of all birth injuries, brain damage is the deadliest. If not treated immediately, it can have fatal consequences. Nearly 3 out of every 100 babies born suffer from some brain damage caused by asphyxiation and lack of oxygen. Moreover, during labor, direct pressure on the skull from the mother’s birth canal or pelvis and improper handling of medical instruments too can damage the brain.

Symptoms: Signs of brain damage may become visible immediately after the trauma or, in some cases, develop gradually as the baby grows. These include:

  • A board forehead, small head, and usually asymmetrical facial features
  • Abnormal eye movements and seizures
  • Chronic fatigue, insomnia, trouble in breathing and sleeping
  • Excessive crying and irritability
  • Trouble with balance and disorientation
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Increased pain sensitivity

Cerebral palsy

CP is characterized by impaired and involuntary body movements. It is a neurological disorder that arises when the region of the brain controlling coordination, reflexes, and balance sustains damage during or even before childbirth. During pregnancy, if the mother repeatedly suffers from infection and fevers, cytokines are produced by her body as an inflammatory response. If these chemicals enter the fetus’s bloodstream, they can damage healthy brain cells and cause cerebral palsy before birth. Other risk factors for this illness include prolonged labor and complications that obstruct the brain’s oxygen supply

Symptoms: The condition affects each child differently. While some can learn to cope by using walking assistance and brakes, others can’t even stand or walk. Signs include:

  • Little to no control over their muscles and movement.
  • Poor muscle tone resulting in floppy arms and limbs
  • Stiffness in the baby’s joints like that of hips, knees, elbows, and wrists
  • Difficulty in coordinating movements like clapping or grasping
  • Slow developmental progress as compared to other babies their age
  • Involuntary drooling and difficulty in swallowing
  • Poor balance uncontrollable tremors
  • Difficulty in writing, speaking and lifting objects

Infant jaundice

This is a condition that affects the liver of a newborn and disturbs its ability to break down RBC’s and eliminate the bilirubin produced. Excess accumulation of toxic bilirubin compromises the development of the entire body. It can lead to deafness, cerebral palsy and slow down the baby’s growth. The issue is prevalent among premature babies and newborns whose blood type isn’t compatible with their mother. Other underlying causes for jaundice include infections, enzyme deficiencies, and internal bleeding.

Symptoms: Signs start to appear within 2-4 weeks after birth. Usually, infant jaundice heals on its own if the baby continues to feed on a healthy diet. Signs include:

  • Yellowing of the baby’s skin and eyes
  • Loss of appetite and excessive sleeping
  • Dark yellow colored urine and pale-colored feces

Erb’s palsy

This illness is caused by injury to the newborn’s nervous system during labor. It affects a group of nerves called the brachial plexus, which run from the spine, through the neck and shoulders, and down the arms. They control muscle movement with our arms, allow coordinated gestures and provide feelings of sensation. When damaged, a person loses their ability to feel and suffers from paralysis within one arm. Many children recover, but some must live with illness for a lifetime. The condition is caused by prolonged labor. Breech birth exerts excess pressure if the child’s arms and shoulder, pulling the nerves and stretching them to the point of permanent damage.

Symptoms: The signs vary depending on the extent of damage caused.

  • Lose hanging arm and wrist rotated inwards
  • Inability to grip and grasp things
  • Limited arm movement and wrist rotation
  • No sensation with the hands and fingers
  • Partial or total paralysis of the arm
  • Poorly developed reflexes

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy

It is a neurological disorder resulting from prolonged oxygen and blood deprivation to the newborn’s brain before, during, or after childbirth. This condition compromises the baby’s health as excessive oxygen starvation can cause organs to malfunction and die. It is the underlying cause of cognitive disability, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. It slows down the baby’s growth, and their body develops much slower than other kids their age. Prenatal HIE is caused by lack of blood flow to the placenta, vascular diseases and infection within the mother’s body, diabetes, and excessive drug use. It can develop during birth if the mother is anemic, has low blood pressure, abnormal fetal position, umbilical cord problems, and internal bleeding from the placenta. At the same time, premature delivery and damage to the skull are the leading causes behind post-natal HIE.

Symptoms: The signs vary depending on the extent of the damage and the regions of the brain affected. They include:

  • Floppy arms and limbs
  • Slow response and reflexes
  • No reaction to sounds and sight
  • Irritability and tension
  • Tremors, abnormal movements, and seizures
  • Feeding problems due to undeveloped muscles of the mouth and throat
  • Signs of organ dysfunction and failure
  • A weak cry

Conclusion

According to the UN, approximately 7 out of 1000 children suffer from birth injuries. While most of these injuries heal on their own, some can cause irreversible damage and physiological alterations that can last a lifetime. Babies and expectant mothers are physically vulnerable and must be treated with utmost care. One must never compromise on high-quality medical care and an educated healthcare team as they play a critical role in your newborn’s safety.