Common Injuries That Can Occur During the Birth Process

This information is provided by The Law Office of Robert H. Kleinschmidt, P.C. Please visit our Web site.

During delivery, many different risks have the potential to cause injury. These risks are present before, during and after birth and known to doctors and well documented in medical literature. With proper medical supervision and technology many of these risk factors can be reduced and the severity of injuries diminished or avoided. When an infant is injured during birth it is devastating for parents. There may be confusion about exactly what happened and why. In trying to understand how their child was injured, parents may be confronted with medical terms which can be somewhat baffling.

Following are some of the more common terms which might be encountered with explanations as to their significance and the role they play in birth injuries.


This term is a broad medical term which is used to describe any "degeneration" of brain function. Encephalopathy is used in combination with other terms to describe different factors which contribute to or actually cause brain damage and the corresponding degeneration of brain function.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)

This is a term used to describe brain damage caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. If there is oxygen deprivation to the brain of the unborn infant during delivery, it will cause damage within minutes and, the effects are irreversible.

Possible causes are a knot in the umbilical cord or having the cord wrapped around the infant’s neck (which is called a nuchal cord). Other problems which can result in HIE include breech birth or difficult deliveries, including a rupture to the uterine wall or compression of the cord during delivery.

It is important to note that HIE can also occur in utero (before birth) and the exact cause may never be known. Brain damage from HIE can range from very mild to severe, depending on the duration of oxygen deprivation and the regions of brain affected.

Cortical Blindness

This is a total or partial blindness caused by damage to the brain's visual center located in the cerebral cortex. This kind of injury does not involve the eyes, which may be perfectly normal. Cortical blindness occurs when damage to the brain prevents the visual images produced by the eyes to be processed by the brain. Cortical blindness is often associated with partial or total oxygen deprivation to the brain during birth.

Cerebral Palsy

This condition is caused when the cerebrum is damaged. The cerebrum is the area of the brain which controls motor skills, higher mental functions, sensations and higher functions. Cerebral palsy is often diagnosed immediately after birth; however it might not be diagnosed until later. Symptoms may include:

  • Spastic muscles or abnormally weak muscles
  • Blindness or deafness
  • Seizures
  • Uncontrolled or spastic muscle movements
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Difficulty walking
  • Intellectual impairment or retardation
There is no single definitive cause of cerebral palsy. However, it can result from brain damage caused by lack of oxygen in utero or during birth. Cerebral palsy is often associated with both hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and anoxic encephalopathy. Symptoms of oxygen deprivation in a newborn include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Resuscitation of the infant may be required
  • Low APGAR scores
  • Low pH laboratory values
  • Acidosis
  • Seizures
  • Skin stained with "Meconium", (dark green fecal matter)
  • Purple or blue skin coloration

Medical errors, negligence by doctors and medical staff, and even faulty equipment can be responsible for causing birth injuries. However, because these issues can be quite complicated, establishing an exact cause of a birth injury requires a medical expert.

The information provided here may help with your understanding of the potential causes of a birth injury; however this should not be considered medical or legal advice. If you feel that your child has sustained a preventable birth injury you should seek the opinion of a highly qualified lawyer with experience in such cases.

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