The birth of a baby is a time of happiness for the whole family. That joy can become tempered by sadness and fear when it becomes apparent that your precious child has somehow been injured during the birth process. Overwhelmed parents have lots of questions. How did it happen? What is my child’s prognosis? Can I pay for all the treatments needed? What should I do first?
Parents need knowledge and guidance to make the best decisions for their baby’s future. The earlier you can educate yourself, the more prepared you’ll be to help your child–physically, emotionally and financially.
Types of Injuries That Can Happen to Babies at Birth
With improved care, birth injuries have declined over the years, but unfortunately, they still occur. According to the National Vital Statistics Report, in recent years the frequency of birth injuries has fallen to about 1.9 injuries for every 1000 live births.
Birth injuries can happen during labor, delivery, or even during pregnancy.
Most birth injuries fall into three main categories:
Orthopedic damage happens when there’s difficulty getting the baby out during delivery, resulting in injuries such as broken or dislocated bones.
Nerve injuries are another type of damage that can occur when doctors try (sometimes improperly) to remove a baby that is stuck in the birth canal. One common type of nerve injury is Erb’s palsy, which can cause paralysis in the hand and arm.
Brain damage is the most serious type of injury babies can suffer during the birth process. It occurs most often during the labor or delivery when oxygen to the brain is temporarily cut off. If the medical team isn’t able to quickly resolve whatever is causing the problem, the baby’s brain can be damaged in a matter of moments. Brain damage may cause problems such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and behavioral difficulties.
Among serious birth injuries, cerebral palsy is the most common type. It’s a lifelong disability that can cause muscle stiffness or floppiness, paralysis, seizures, speech problems, and other issues. The impairment can range from mild to severe. One child may just move a little awkwardly, while another may be severely affected with complete paralysis and other problems.
Some Birth Injuries Present Themselves Later
Sometimes a child will appear perfectly healthy at birth, only to develop symptoms months or even years later. Cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and learning problems are some of the most common issues that may not be apparent at first, even if they were caused by an injury during childbirth.
There is a large range of symptoms that may indicate that the baby has been injured. It’s important to get regular checkups with a trusted pediatrician and have the appropriate developmental screenings. Be sure to ask the doctor questions about anything you feel may be unusual about your baby.
Here are some of the symptoms that might indicate birth injuries:
- Muscle stiffness or weakness
- Abnormal reflexes
- Limbs bent in unusual positions
- Excessive drooling
- Using one side of the body more than the other
- Unusual difficulty with feedings
- Growth problems
- Developmental delays
- Missing milestones
Learning about the normal milestones your baby should be reaching will help you to catch any problems early so you can quickly get the needed help for your child.
The Centers for Disease Control has a milestones web page that gives parents a resource on what to look for in their child’s development from age two months through five years. You’ll find milestones in categories of social/emotional, language and communication, cognitive, and physical development.
Some milestones for a typical six-month-old baby, for instance, include responding to familiar faces, taking turns making sounds with parents, trying to get objects out of reach, and starting to sit without being supported.
Your pediatrician can help you sort out what may be a minor issue from something that indicates a more serious problem.
Safeguarding Your Injured Baby’s Future
Any parent in this distressing situation will wonder, what should I do?
First, don’t delay in getting treatments and services for your child. Early intervention is vital for any child who has suffered an injury at birth. Physical, occupational, and speech therapies, medications, surgeries, or other treatments may make more of a difference for your child when they’re begun as early as possible. Finding support groups, local and online, can offer a wealth of resource ideas to parents as well.
Of course, next to the stress and sadness parents feel, the biggest hurdle they may face is financial. Who will pay for treatments that may be quite expensive? For very serious birth injuries like cerebral palsy, the lifetime costs of therapies, medications, and equipment can be astronomical.
Find out if legal help may be appropriate. It’s an unfortunate fact that many birth injuries are due to mistakes made by medical staff. If you think your baby’s injury was caused by a provider’s malpractice, don’t delay in first consulting a medical expert to get a formal opinion about your baby’s condition and its cause.
If it turns out that someone is at fault for your baby’s birth injury, you’ll need to find legal help to start the process of providing for your child financially as soon as possible. Time is of the essence for injury cases, because there are statutes of limitation for filing a lawsuit, which vary for each state.
Look into government programs that help families with expenses. Whether or not your situation merits legal action, other resources can help parents financially in caring for their birth-injured child.
Here are some programs your child may qualify for:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Medicaid Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) You can receive publicly funded early intervention services for disabled children under two. Older children will receive special education services at their schools.
Feeling overwhelmed is normal for parents facing the stress of birth injuries. If you are now part of that group, you’ll find it comforting to know that you’re doing everything you can to assure the best possible future for your beautiful baby.