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What is Birth Trauma?

Typically, birth trauma involves an infant’s vital organs and bone structures such as the brain, spinal cord, and skull. Birth injuries and trauma are the direct result of an adverse effect during labor and delivery and typically impair the infant’s body function or structure. Injuries of this nature can also occur after delivery in situations where infants require resuscitation. Overall, the incidence of birth trauma in developed countries has declined in relation to improvements in obstetrics and prenatal diagnosis; however, these incidents can still occur in relation to medical malpractice or negligence on the part of a physician or other medical staff. Birth injuries can vary widely from very minor issues such as bruising or lacerations to severe injuries and conditions that can lead to brain damage and even death.

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Statistical Data and Examples

It has been estimated that severe birth trauma accounts for approximately two percent of neonatal deaths in the United States with an incidence of six to eight injuries per 1,000 live births. Birth trauma is designated as damage to the tissues and organs of an infant caused by external forces during childbirth such as forceps or vacuum extraction. In some cases birth trauma is the combination of these external forces and impaired blood circulation or organ functioning.

The birthing process by itself involves compression, contractions, torque, and traction; the process can become further complicated when fetal size, presentation, or neurological conditions or immaturity are also present. Examples of injuries occurring during labor and delivery can include but are not limited to:

  • Brachial plexus palsy
  • Caput succedaneum
  • Cephalohematoma
  • Subgaleal hemorrhage
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Epidural hemorrhage
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage
  • Fractures

Birth Trauma Versus Birth Defects

A birth defect is a congenital disorder or disease developing during pregnancy or labor and delivery up to the first month of life, regardless of cause. Birth defects are rarely the result of medical error and are more likely to be caused by genetic abnormalities, infection, internal (uterine) and external environmental factors (such as smoking or drinking while pregnant). However, certain birth defects can be diagnosed through screenings or other tests performed during pregnancy; therefore, doctors or medical staff that fails to order tests such as these can be at fault for negligence and failing to adhere to the accepted standards of care.

Birth defects are a leading cause of infant death, accounting for more than one out of five infant deaths. Babies born with birth defects are more likely to develop illnesses and long-term disabilities than those born without birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that birth defects have accounted for over 139,000 hospital stays in one year, resulting in almost $2.6 billion in hospital costs.

While deriving from different factors, both birth injuries and defects can be traumatic experiences for parents and their children, greatly affecting their quality of life.

 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Facts about Birth Defects
Medscape-Pediatric Cardiac Birth Trauma