The Causes & Symptoms of Neurological Birth Injuries

Birth injuries are tragic accidents with lifelong consequences. Part of the reason our firm is committed to representing victims in these cases is they are one of the most significant emotional and financial burdens a family can bear. Up to 50% of birth injuries are preventable—meaning there’s a good chance that doctors are responsible for many of the lifelong disabilities thousands of children are forced to live with.

Below, we take a look at the causes and symptoms of the most common birth injuries we’ve encountered.

Neurological Birth Injuries

Speaking broadly, neurological birth injuries are injuries that affects the brain’s function and the effects of brain damage. Commonly, neurological injuries are caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain. Throughout labor, babies are in a vulnerable position: their oxygen supply through the umbilical cord (or through their lungs) is briefly put in danger while the child is being delivered.

Doctors are trained to mitigate this risk—they monitor fetal distress to ensure the baby is getting plenty of oxygen—but sometimes their mistakes cause babies to lose oxygen and suffer brain damage. The below injuries detail the specific ways a baby can suffer neurological injuries at birth.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder caused by brain damage to the brain’s motor cortex, basal ganglia, or cerebellum. The result is an inability to move or function normally. The nerves controlling muscle flexing will misfire constantly, causing the muscles to relax or tense uncontrollably. Damage to these parts of the brain also result in behavioral issues and developmental obstacles—children with CP are 7 times more likely to have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The major symptoms of cerebral palsy are:

  • Abnormally floppy limbs and low muscle tone
  • Abnormally toned and flexed muscles
  • Delayed basic motor skills (e.g. crawling, swallowing)
  • Stiff, jerky, or “spastic” movements 

Cerebral palsy is one of the most common mobility injuries in the United States. About 10,000 babies born every year will develop a form of cerebral palsy, and statistically 1 in 5 of these cases are caused by birth injuries.

Birth Asphyxia

Birth asphyxia is a general term for any injury that causes oxygen deprivation before or during birth. It can be caused by several different events, including umbilical prolapse (when the umbilical travels through the birth canal first), placental abruption (when the placenta detaches too early), shoulder dystocia (more on that below), or breech presentation. 

In each of these cases, a baby’s ability to breathe or receive oxygen through the placenta is threatened. After only 5 minutes of oxygen deprivation, brain tissue begins to die and become permanently dysfunctional.

The symptoms of birth asphyxia include:

  • Pale blue skin tone
  • Weak, floppy muscles
  • Seizing during and after birth
  • Late or missed developmental delays

It’s important to realize that birth asphyxia symptoms may not appear for several months after birth. For example, a difficult labor might cause brain damage to the motor cortex—which wouldn’t be evident until your baby attempts to move and walk.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

This medical term essentially translates to “brain disorder [encephalopathy] caused a lack of oxygen [hypoxic] due to blood flow [ischemic].” This is a specific form of birth asphyxia, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. HIE causes severe and unpredictable brain damage when it occurs and often necessitates lifelong care and supervision.

The causes of HIE include anything that limits blood flow to the baby:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Poor circulation
  • Umbilical cord accidents
  • Prolonged labor

It’s a serious condition—HIE is responsible for 23% of neonatal deaths worldwide. HIE is also the underlying cause of cerebral palsy in 10% of cases. If a mother has blood clotting issues, that’s also a risk factor for HIE. However, in a vast number of cases the injuries caused by HIE events are linked to medical negligence—the lack of care by nurses or doctors that leads to birth injuries.

Symptoms of damage from HIE include:

  • Difficulty with crawling
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain
  • Tremors and paralysis (indicating nerve damage)
  • Abnormal muscle tone (both hyper- and hypotonia)

If you fear that your child suffered serious injuries at birth, contact our Florida birth injury lawyers for a free review of your child’s case. Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. has won hundreds of millions of dollars for the wrongfully injured—and we have over 200 years of experience with complex birth injury and medical malpractice cases. Each case we handle receives our entire firm’s full focus and attention. If your child may need lifelong care, that’s the type of focus you need right now.

Call (305) 770-6335 or contact us online for a free consultation—get the answers you need.

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