Was My Child's Disability Caused by Birth Trauma?

Newborn after Birth Trauma

Pregnant women are commonly asked, "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" Most of the time, the answer is, "It doesn't matter to me; I just want a healthy baby." Most parents just want, and expect, their baby to be healthy. When a newborn has health issues, it can be devastating. When those health issues were avoidable, as in the case of birth trauma, the situation is even more difficult and painful. If your newborn has a health issue, how do you tell if it was a birth defect or birth trauma?

The Difference Between Birth Defect and Birth Trauma

"Birth defect" and "birth trauma" or "birth injury" sound like they could be terms for the same thing, but there is an important distinction. While "birth trauma" and "birth injury" might be used interchangeably, "birth defect" is something different.

A birth defect may also be called a congenital defect. The term "congenital" means "from birth." These problems develop while the fetus is in the uterus and typically involve genetic abnormalities. Sometimes they may be caused by the mother's exposure to some toxic substance during pregnancy, but often there is no one to blame for a birth defect. Common birth defects include cleft lip, cleft palate, club foot and spina bifida.

Birth trauma, on the other hand, is often the result of medical malpractice in the form of a medical professional's action or inaction during labor or the birth process. Often, the injury results in lasting disability for the child and ongoing expenses for medical treatment or therapy. Birth trauma is more likely during a long, difficult labor. The cases you are most likely to hear about involve doctors or nurses whose conduct was egregious, but the majority of birth trauma cases occur because the professional simply doesn't comprehend the urgency of the situation until it is too late.

What is a Birth Injury?

Some birth injuries, such as lacerations, bruises, and broken bones, are immediately apparent. Injuries from vacuum extraction or forceps may also be obvious, but may not be. Sometimes, an injury that is obvious, though distressing, is relatively mild with no long-lasting consequences.

Other injuries are more severe. While these may show immediate signs, like a bluish cast to the skin indicating lack of oxygen, or difficulty breathing, not all severe birth injuries are obvious from the outset. A parent might, in the days or weeks after birth, notice that the baby has:

  • low muscle tone
  • variation in muscle tone
  • stiff muscles
  • soft bulges on the head
  • jaundice
  • pain in one or more limbs
  • difficulty feeding or sucking
  • seizures
  • spastic or jerky motions
  • rash

These may be signs of a serious condition, such as cerebral palsy, Erb's palsy, or brain damage, that may have been caused by medical malpractice. Often, symptoms of a birth injury/birth trauma may look similar to those of a natural birth defect, so it may not be immediately obvious that a professional was to blame for the damage.

What to Do if You Suspect Birth Trauma

Obviously, if your child is unwell, your first priority is getting an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Hopefully, your child's condition will improve rapidly and your child will make a full recovery before he or she has any recollection of a problem.

However, if you suspect that your child's condition may be the result of professional negligence, you should consult with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney. Negligent conduct that may constitute malpractice generally involves one of two scenarios: either the medical professional failed to properly assess and treat a condition before or during birth, or the proper treatment was given, but in a negligent way. Examples of negligence include:

  • incorrect use of forceps or vacuum extractor
  • failure to properly monitor fetal heart rate
  • failure to perform a C-section when needed
  • failure to properly diagnose eclampsia or preeclampsia in the mother
  • prescribing medicine before birth that injures mother or infant

Medical professionals are held to a standard of care: how a reasonable professional in a similar situation would behave in that situation. If a doctor, nurse, or other provider does not act according to the standard of care and a patient is injured, the medical professional may be liable for medical malpractice.

There is a statute of limitation on claims for medical malpractice in Oregon. It is important to have any potential claims evaluated by an attorney before time runs out and your ability to file a claim is barred. It can be difficult to know the extent of your child's future needs early on, and failing to file a claim may mean a lifetime of financial hardship for someone else's negligent action. If you have questions about whether your child suffered a birth injury, we invite you to contact our law firm for a free, confidential, initial consultation.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.