People often hear about “birth injuries” in the news, in local papers, or on social media networks. Given the distinct trauma associated with them, potential reasons for cases of birth injury repeatedly come under discussion.
It’s also not uncommon for parents and families that are affected by birth injuries to feel confused about their situation and devoid of answers. Although the last place they’d expect to be misinformed is in a healthcare institution, not even doctors always have the answers they need. So why is this the case, and what are birth injuries, exactly?
In short, a birth injury can be any type of injury that occurs before, during, or after childbirth, and usually has lifelong effects. Examples include brachial plexus (Erb’s) palsy, bone fractures, spinal cord injury, facial paralysis, and cerebral palsy (1 of the most serious types).
Birth injuries are often mistaken for other types of conditions – yet there are specific ways in which they differ. Here’s a deeper look into common myths and actual facts about birth injuries.
Myth: Birth Injuries Are the Same as Birth Defects.
Birth injuries are commonly mistaken for birth defects, but it’s important to note the distinction. Birth defects are usually genetic abnormalities that develop before birth, and therefore inevitable. On the other hand, birth injuries are preventable in many cases. They can be caused by:
- Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain (hypoxia) or body (asphyxia)
- Forceful or careless use of birth-assisting instruments such as forceps
- Failure to adequately monitor the mother’s or fetus’s health
- Delay in performing a necessary or emergency cesarean section
- Failure to detect maternal infections such as meningitis
In many cases, these problems are the result of so-called “medical malpractice,” or improper handling of the birthing process. When a child is born with a birth injury such as cerebral palsy, their parents cannot automatically assume the cause was a medical mistake – nevertheless, they are encouraged to find out either way.
Myth: Birth Injuries Are Accidents; There’s No Way They Can Be Avoided.
Labor and delivery are fraught with risks, meaning birth complications can happen to anyone. In many cases, though, birth injuries are entirely unnecessary.
Remember that, in as complicated of a procedure as delivering a baby, a doctor can make mistakes at any time. The number of years’ experience or specialized training a practitioner has is inconsequential. Doctors may be reluctant to accept responsibility for the birth injury in order to protect their or a hospital’s reputation – in other words, appallingly, to protect their bank accounts. However, it’s important not to discount the possibility that medical error is the only cause.
Myth: Birth Injuries Aren’t Very Common.
Although birth injuries are relatively uncommon compared to other types of injury in the United States, they occur more often than many would think.
Approximately 7 in every 1,000 American children sustain injuries at birth. This equates to 28,000 children per year, 2,333 per month, 538 per week, 76 per day, and 3 per hour.
One study revealed 157,700 injuries to mothers and newborns in a single year. Of these, almost 50 percent could have been avoided. Considering so many of these injuries need not have happened if medical staff had provided appropriate care, 3 events per hour is an unacceptably high rate.
Myth: The Damage Is Done, and It’s Best to Move On.
It can be very difficult for parents to deal with the pain of a birth injury, not to mention the overwhelming challenge of ensuring their child has a happy and healthy life.
Considering birth injuries are lifelong – and often unjustly caused – can families affected by them ever truly move on? Perhaps not.
That said, emotional, financial, and informational support is out there – in the form of support groups, medical research, charities, and lawyers – that can help make the issue more bearable to live with. Legal action, for example, not only helps to lighten the financial burden of healthcare and provide afflicted children with opportunities to achieve their highest potential. More importantly, it can help find answers and justice for the unfounded injuries these newborns sustained. No child deserves a rocky start in life; but every parent deserves to know what really went wrong and why.