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How to Know If You Have Traumatic Brain Injury at Birth

No parent ever wants to think about a possible birth injury. Pregnancy and childbirth can be traumatic enough, without having to think about possible long-term problems. Unfortunately, parents may not even find out about a traumatic birth injury until years later. By then, it seems like nothing can be done. However, there are ways to help you and your family live with a birth injury. 

It is important to identify a birth injury as early as possible. Early identification and diagnosis of a mental or physical condition can provide more treatment options. Many birth injuries can be treated or improved through proper treatment, medication, surgery, or therapy. Talk to your doctor about your child’s condition and what treatment options may be available. 

If you suspect your child’s injury may have been caused by a traumatic birth injury, you can contact a birth injury attorney for help. An experienced birth injury lawyer can help you get answers and understand your options. Contact our birth injury law office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.  

Does My Child Have a Birth Injury?

How is a parent supposed to know if their child has a birth injury? A newborn may not be able to express pain or injury and it is up to parents to identify possible signs of an injury or illness. Birth injuries can be caused by improper medical care during pregnancy, traumatic delivery, delayed delivery, or improper care after delivery. Some injuries may not become evident until the child starts to develop, years after the injury. Other signs of injuries may be evident immediately. 

Signs of a Traumatic Delivery Injury

There may be signs of a traumatic delivery injury shortly after the child is born. This could include evidence of nerve damage, traumatic head injuries, and injuries to the limbs. Some traumatic birth injuries include: 

  • Palsy
  • Cerebral palsy 
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Oxygen deprivation brain damage
  • Eye injuries 
  • Physical trauma

Cerebral Palsy

Palsy includes paralysis-related conditions. Palsy can result in physical weakness, loss of feeling, and uncontrollable body movements. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth. There are different types of cerebral palsy involving different areas of the brain.

Cerebral palsy (CP) is one of the most common motor disability disorders for children in the United States. There are more than 760,000 people in the U.S. with CP. Each year, about 10,000 children develop cerebral palsy. The 4 main types of cerebral palsy include: 

  • Spastic cerebral palsy
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy
  • Mixed cerebral palsy

Spastic diplegia or diparesis causes stiff muscles, generally in the legs. The hip and leg muscles may pull together, cross over, or turn inward. Spastic diplegia can make it difficult to walk or require mobility devices or crutches. Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis may only affect one side of a person’s body, more often in the arms.

Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis involves motor disfunction to all four limbs, as well as the torso and head. Individuals with spastic CP may not be able to walk, have problems speaking or hearing, and can suffer seizures. 

Dyskinetic CP involves uncontrollable movements of the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Individuals with dyskinetic cerebral palsy may be able to move but may have difficulty walking or find it difficult to sit. Uncontrolled movement may also affect the head and face, making it difficult to eat, swallow, talk, and communicate. 

Ataxic CP involves problems with balance and coordination. These individuals may be able to walk with crutches or other supports.  Mixed cerebral palsy may involve a combination of the above types of palsy, such as spastic-dyskinetic CP.

There may be evidence of cerebral palsy shortly after the child is born. Early signs of cerebral palsy may include: 

  • Delayed head coming forward when picked up
  • Stiff body
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Slack or floppy body movement
  • Abnormal posture
  • Overextends neck and back 
  • Legs get stiff or cross when picked up
  • Cannot roll over
  • Cannot bring hands to the mouth 
  • Have difficulty bringing hands together

In babies older than 6 months, signs of CP may include: 

  • Child doesn’t roll over
  • Child cannot bring hands together
  • Child cannot bring hands to mouth
  • One hand is kept fisted
  • Scooting on buttocks or hopping on knees
  • Lopsided crawling

Head Trauma

Head trauma can be caused by negligent delivery techniques by the doctor. This may include using extraction devices during a difficult delivery, like forceps or a vacuum extractor. If the baby is not able to be delivered through the birth canal the doctors may have to do an emergency C-section delivery. However, some doctors continue to try for a vaginal birth even if it puts the baby and mother at risk of injury. 

Signs of head trauma may include swelling or bruising on the head or around the eyes, distorted facial features, or a hematoma caused by internal bleeding. A cephalohematoma occurs when blood collects between the baby’s skull and membrane. The subgaleal hemorrhage may put pressure on the brain or lead to a skull fracture. If it is not resolved, it could lead to an infection, which could result in sepsis or meningitis. 

Oxygen Deprivation

Oxygen deprivation is a cause of some of the most severe birth injuries. Not getting enough oxygen through the blood for even a short period can lead to permanent brain damage. A common birth injury involving oxygen deprivation is known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)

During pregnancy, the baby’s oxygen is supplied through the blood from the mother. The baby’s lungs are still developing and are not used until the baby is delivered and breathes air for the first time. This transition is a critical step. If the baby does not get enough oxygen through the blood or the air, it can begin to cause cell damage within minutes. 

The body can begin to react without oxygen after only a minute. Between about 1 minute and 3 minutes, brain cells and neurons begin to suffer damage, which could cause permanent brain damage. After about 5 minutes, there may be more extensive brain cell death and severe brain damage. After about 10 minutes, death is likely. After 15 minutes, recovery and survival are nearly impossible.

There are a number of possible causes of oxygen deprivation injuries in children, including: 

  • Delayed delivery
  • Premature delivery
  • Infection
  • Umbilical cord problems
  • Uterine rupture
  • Preeclampsia
  • Eclampsia
  • Placenta previa
  • Infection
  • Delayed C-section

Mild signs and symptoms of hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, may be obvious in adults but difficult to detect in newborns. Symptoms of oxygen deprivation problems may include: 

  • Fetal distress
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Lack of movement
  • Cyanosis or bluish skin tone
  • Poor reflexes
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Lack of crying
  • Difficulty breathing 

Physical Injuries

Some physical injuries during labor cause damage to the limbs, bones, muscles, or nerves. Physical trauma includes damage to the arms, shoulders, neck, or legs. This can be caused by improper delivery techniques, forcing the baby’s body, or pulling on the baby’s limbs. Physical injuries include brachial plexus injury, Erb’s palsy, and Klumpke’s palsy. 

Klumpke’s palsy is also known as Dejerine-Klumpke palsy. This is an injury to the brachial plexus which causes paralysis of the arm and brachial plexus nerves. Long-term complications of Klumpke’s palsy may include arm weakness, muscle weakness, limited feeling, limited range of motion, and most often affects the forearm, wrist, and hand. 

Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury that affects the upper group of the am’s nerves. Signs include loss of sensation in the arm, muscle atrophy, and paralysis. An individual may not be able to raise their arm from the side or flex at the elbow. In babies, the arm may have a loose appearance.  

Brachial plexus injuries can benefit from early diagnosis and treatment. Some babies are able to recover on their own but surgery is often required to repair the nerve fractures. Nerve transfer from the opposite arm or limb can help children recover nerve function. Subscapularis release involves surgery to provide stretch within the arm without damaging the muscle. Physiotherapy can help the individual to regain and maintain muscle mass and usage. 

Developmental Milestones to Detect Traumatic Injuries

Developmental milestones allow parents and doctors to assess the child’s mental and physical development. These are guidelines that assess motor skills, speech and cognition, and social and emotional development. These are based on how and when most children develop but provide a good idea if your child may have physical or mental injuries. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of developmental milestones from age 2 months up to age 5. For example, at 2 months, the milestones include: 

  • Begins to smile
  • Can calm themselves
  • Tries to look at parent
  • Coos and makes gurgling sounds
  • Turns toward sounds.
  • Pays attention to faces
  • Follows things with eyes
  • Acts bored
  • Can hold head up
  • Pushes up when on tummy
  • Makes smoother arm and leg movement

If your child is missing these important milestones, you should consult your doctor. 

Accepting Developmental Delays

It is not uncommon to deny that your child is having developmental delays. All children develop differently and it is easy to explain away any perceived delays by noticing all the positive sides of your young child. It can be difficult to accept that your child may have a mental or physical disability. It can be even more difficult to hear about it from other parents, family, or doctors when you have not yet accepted that there may be something wrong. 

Family members, doctors, teachers, and other parents may notice when a child is showing delayed development, even if the parents do not accept the situation. After all, the parents have the closest connection to the child and it is easy to deny that there is anything wrong. Anecdotal stories about other kids may help explain away your concerns but it does not address them. A single milestone missed may not mean anything. However, missing multiple milestones and continually missing milestones over time may be a good indication that your child has a developmental disability. 

Unfortunately, denying developmental delays can impair the child’s future success. Some treatments and therapies can improve the overall outlook for the child, including physical therapy, speech therapy, and auditory therapy. In other cases, surgery early on could improve the child’s physical development and reduce long-term concerns in the future. Talk to your doctors if you have any concerns about your child’s developments or delays. 

Handling Developmental Delay Deniers

One of the most common responses to developmental concerns is to fight back, react, and withdraw. This can even occur between parents. The mother may be concerned about speech delays or physical delays and the father may snap back that the child is fine. Other parents may not be much help. Lots of parents have stories like, “my child didn’t talk until he was 5 and he’s totally fine now.” Each child is different and refusing to address possible concerns may not be beneficial to anyone. 

There is no guidebook to being a parent. Many first-time parents do not know what to expect, how other children develop, or have a hard time identifying a problem. The developmental milestones are ways to assess the child’s development. Your child may not be able to speak but they should be able to communicate at an age-appropriate level. This includes making sounds, making gestures, and looking at other people. 

As the parent, you may be in the best position to understand your own child but if your child is regularly missing developmental milestones, it is better to address the problem now instead of waiting until later. If the delay was caused by a traumatic injury at birth, then you may have a limited time to file a claim against the doctors who wrongfully harmed your baby. A birth injury malpractice claim can also help you recover damages so that you can provide the best care for your child to have a happy and fulfilled life ahead. 

If You’re Not Sure, Make a Phone Call for Help

If you are not sure if an injury was caused by a medical error, you can contact an experienced birth injury lawyer for help. There is a limited amount of time to file a birth injury claim. Make sure you file your case in time to recover damages, including medical care for your child. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to make sure you can file your birth injury claim before it is too late. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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