ERNST & YOUNG
One of the most common types of birth injuries is nerve damage. This issue can range from mild to severe, and temporary to permanent. But either way, nerve damage can be an alarming diagnosis to deal with. After all, nerves carry messages from one part of the body to another, signaling the heart to pump blood and the limbs to move. When the nerves in the body become damaged—such as during a traumatic birth—certain body parts may become weak or paralyzed. If you’re worried that your baby may have sustained nerve damage during birth, take a look at what you need to know.
Types of Nerve Damage During Birth
The nervous system extends throughout the entire body, from the head and neck down to the feet and toes. As a result, there are several types of nerve damage that may occur when a baby is born. One of the most common types of nerve damage is a brachial plexus injury. This describes an injury to the brachial plexus, which is a network of nerves affecting the arms, hands, and shoulders. If these nerves are compressed, stretched, or torn from the spinal cord during the birth due to improper positioning, damage may occur.
There are a few types of brachial plexus injuries. For instance, when only the nerves in the upper arm are damaged, the baby may have brachial palsy, while Klumpke paralysis occurs when the lower arm or hand have nerve damage. Also, Erb’s palsy describes when both the lower and upper arms have nerve damage.
Another result of nerve damage during birth is facial paralysis, which happens when a forceps delivery puts excess pressure on the baby’s face. Once the nerves in part of the face are damaged, the muscles in that area may be weak or completely paralyzed, making the face look uneven when the baby cries or even blinks.
Diaphragm paralysis is another possible result of nerve damage during birth. When the diaphragm—the muscle between the heart and the lungs—is damaged, the baby may struggle to breathe after birth. Because it affects the ability to breathe, diaphragm paralysis can be life-threatening.
Common Reasons for Nerve Damage During Birth
Nerve damage during birth typically occurs when a doctor or nurse pulls or puts pressure on the baby while trying to deliver him or her. In most cases, this leads to improper positioning that can cause temporary or permanent damage to the nerves. For example, pulling the newborn’s head and neck too forcefully while the shoulders are still passing through the birth canal may result in Erb’s palsy.
Similarly, putting pressure on the baby’s raised arms during a breech delivery can also cause nerve damage. Essentially, any excess pressure, stretching, or twisting of the head, neck, or shoulders during delivery can cause nerve trauma.
Though most doctors and nurses do everything they can to safely deliver the baby—which often means pulling and repositioning the newborn during birth—there are ways to prevent nerve damage when doing so. Paying attention to certain risk factors is a major way to prevent nerve damage. For instance, a baby is more likely to become stuck in the birth canal when he or she is larger than average or when labor is lasting longer than usual. In addition, if the baby is breech, it can be more difficult to get him or her out of the birth canal without the use of excess force or extraction tools—which can increase the chance of nerve damage during birth.
Experienced doctors and nurses usually pay attention to these risk factors and plan accordingly so they can avoid birth trauma whenever possible. For example, if the baby is large or in the breech position, doctors often recommend and plan for a C-section instead of a vaginal birth—reducing the chances of nerve damage.
Treatment for Nerve Damage
Many parents notice symptoms of nerve damage within weeks or months of their baby’s birth. These may include the inability for the baby to move his or her hand, arm, or part of the face. If you notice that your baby is unable to move his or her limbs, or if his or her face looks asymmetrical—especially when crying, yawning, or blinking—you should make a doctor’s appointment.
For some babies, the nerve damage is only temporary and will subside within a few weeks after birth. For others, the damage will last years or may even be permanent. In that case, you will have to prepare for the many treatment options recommended by your baby’s doctor, depending on the type and severity of the nerve damage. Some examples include physical therapy, surgery, Botox injections, and mobility aids. If you cannot afford these treatment options, it may be time to seek legal help so you can make sure the responsible party pays for the treatment your child needs
How a Lawyer Can Help You
If you believe the nerve damage your baby suffered during birth could have been prevented, it’s time to talk to a lawyer about your options. If it turns out the medical team made a mistake or was medically negligent in any way, you might have a case. Initiating a lawsuit gives you a chance to not only ensure the medical professionals are held accountable for their mistakes, but also get the compensation you need to start treatment for your baby.
You can find out what your legal options are when you schedule a free consultation with Weltchek Mallahan & Weltchek. Our legal team has been taking on Maryland medical malpractice cases for years, so contact us today to get started on your case!