As parents prepare for a new baby, they hope for the best, and hope that the healthcare providers responsible for their infant’s health do the best that they can. After all, a physician is responsible for giving both mother and infant medical care for at least nine months.
Part of the medical care provided by physicians include recommending the best prenatal vitamins, performing routine check-ups, and, at the end of the pregnancy, delivering the baby as safely as possible.
But all too often, babies are born with problems that don’t match their parents’ expectations. Sometimes it’s because the baby is born with an undiagnosed birth defect, and sometimes the baby is a victim of a birth injury that occurs during labor and delivery.
Physicians and medical staff are human and make mistakes, but the fact remains that they are responsible for ensuring an infant is delivered into the world as healthy as possible and without injuries caused by sheer medical negligence.
Birth Defect vs. Birth Injury
A birth defect is a health problem that inflicts your baby from the outset based on your child’s DNA. Examples of birth defects are Down Syndrome, a cleft palate, a heart murmur, or other health problems stemming from the structure of the child’s DNA.
In some instances, however, birth defects are a direct cause of outside factors, such as pregnant women taking medication that’s been shown to cause birth defects, such as certain anti-depressant drugs and even certain birth control medications. In these cases, the birth defects could have been prevented had the physician not prescribed these types of medications during pregnancy.
A birth injury is a health problem that an infant is born with that is, in most cases, completely preventable. The most common types of preventable birth injuries are caused by:
- Pulling and/or twisting the infant improperly during the delivery period
- Improper handling and use of birth-assisting tools, such as forceps or a vacuum extraction tool
- Administering the wrong amount or the wrong type of medication to the mother during pregnancy and during labor
- Failure to monitor the infant properly for distress, including failure to regularly monitor fetal heartbeat
- Failure to schedule and perform an emergency cesarean surgery (C-section).
Medical staff can make mistakes that harm your child (sometimes for a lifetime) for a variety of reasons, including inattentiveness, exhaustion, or inexperience. Sometimes, an experienced physician who is better equipped to handle high-risk pregnancies is not available when the baby is being delivered.
None of these reasons are excusable, but unfortunately, these are sometimes the sources for the aforementioned problems. While these are all things that medical staff members should know how to avoid, these accidents are still likely to happen, especially if during a stressful, difficult delivery.
A difficult delivery, however, is something that an experienced doctor should be able to avoid. Another way that a birth injury happens to your child is from medical negligence, and sometimes medical negligence could be something as simple as a doctor not viewing the imaging materials properly (namely the ultrasound, but other medical images of the baby could likewise suffice) and thus preventing a difficult birth. In fact, most birth injuries happen because of a difficult labor.
Several birth injuries and difficult labors could be prevented just by monitoring the size of the baby in proportion to the birth canal, seeing what position the baby was in weeks before labor, and whether the umbilical cord and placenta were in proper health and in healthy positions. Difficult labors commonly result in Erb’s palsy and the associated arm problems, or in brain injuries such as cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, or even wrongful death.
Medical negligence could start earlier than that, however. The baby could be malnourished, underweight, or could have a folic acid deficiency if the doctor isn’t prescribing the necessary nutrition and vitamin regimen to the mother. Other examples of medical negligence could be the doctor’s failure to perform the necessary tests.
One of many important tests that the doctor should check for is whether the mother has group B strep infection. If the baby’s birth injury is related to the doctor not performing the right tests, this is an example of medical negligence. Even if the baby is born with a birth defect –something that wouldn’t be considered preventable- and the parents and doctor are seemingly surprised about the state of the baby’s health, this is considered medical negligence (also called wrongful birth). Sometimes the parents are not financially prepared to take care of a child that requires a lot of medical care as a child with a birth defect would, and if the doctor did not give them the proper knowledge beforehand, this is considered medical negligence.
Consequences of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries are serious. If you think your child may be the victim of a birth injury, it’s important to track what your child’s symptoms are and to consult a doctor as quickly as possible. Some of the long-term consequences of a birth injury can be lessened the quicker that medical attention is brought to the child. In addition to the previously mentioned disorders, birth injuries may also lead to a myriad of additional medical issues, including:
- A long-term decrease in strength and stamina
- Decreased and/or lack of nerve sensations
- Cognitive impairment
- Emotional impairment
- Failure of bones to thrive and develop correctly
- Osteoarthritis and joint dysfunctions
- Emotional and psychological problems
Cerebral Palsy and Birth Injuries
Although any type of birth injury is devastating, cerebral palsy (CP) remains one of the most severe health disorders that stems from birth injuries. In most cases, CP leads to devastating health issues and disabilities that last a lifetime. Since there is no cure for CP, these permanent disabilities not only place infants at risk for serious medical problems, but the financial aspect of taking care of children with CP is more than the average family can afford.
CP will vary in severity, ranging from light involuntary movements while carrying out daily activities, to complete loss of movement. There are numerous reasons in which birth injuries contribute to the development of CP, including physicians who fail to:
- Detect, diagnose, and treat maternal infections
- Properly monitor fetal heartbeat
- Detect umbilical cord problems, such as a prolapsed umbilical cord
- Detect maternal and/or fetal distress, and in turn fail to schedule and carry out an emergency cesarean surgery (C-section)
- Properly use birth-assisting tools during childbirth by applying too much force or improper pulling
Costs Associated with Birth Injuries
Birth injuries are often lifelong complications that require consistent medical treatment and rehabilitation. Depending upon the severity of the injuries, the financial costs associated with birth injuries can range from several thousands to over a million during the lifespan of a child with birth injuries.
For instance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lifetime costs associated with a child who has cerebral palsy (CP) is around $1 million, whereas the costs associated with a child who suffers hearing loss after a birth injury typically ranges around $400,00, and the costs associated with vision impairments average a little over $500,000.
Although there are several avenues that help parents with high costs of children with disabilities, such as grants and other forms of government assistance, it’s important to remember that if your child’s birth injuries are a result of medical negligence and carelessness, the medical staff, hospital, and/or physician may be liable for damages. Furthermore, although helpful, most grants and government assistance programs are typically not enough to help cover the long-term, overwhelming expenses associated with birth injuries.