Many birth injuries are difficult to identify immediately after the baby is born. It may take hours or days before a parent realizes that something may be wrong and the baby is not moving part of their body. Nerve damage can be especially traumatic for the parents and baby because it may not be clear if the injury is permanent.
Childbirth can be a traumatic experience and nerve damage is an all too common complication of a difficult delivery. However, nerve damage may be avoidable where the doctor takes the proper steps, prepares for possible birth complications, and identifies when it is time to perform an emergency c-section instead of risking serious injury to the baby and mother.
When a doctor fails to follow the standard of care it can put the baby at risk of nerve damage and other birth injuries. The family may be able to recover an award to cover the medical expenses and other damages caused by the doctor’s negligence. Talk to your birth injury law firm for answers after your child suffered nerve damage injuries.
Nerve Damage During Childbirth
Nerve damage involves injury to the nervous system tissue, including nerve fibers. The extent of nerve damage depends on the type of nerve injury and the extent of damage to the surrounding connective tissue. Some nerve damage is temporary, with regeneration possible in the peripheral nerves. However, some nerve damage is permanent and may leave the injured victim with permanent dysfunction, pain, or limited physical ability.
Minor Nerve Damage
The least severe level of nerve injury is neurapraxia, where the continuity of the nerve is preserved. This type of nerve injury can be caused by compression of the nerves during delivery or damage caused by ischemia, or lack of blood flow to the tissue. The loss of function is generally temporary and may be reversed to recover full function.
Moderate to Severe Nerve Damage
More serious nerve damage causes damage to the neuronal axon and disruption of nerve continuity. Axonotmesis can be caused by crushing injuries or from severe stretching. There may be some regeneration but this level of nerve damage may lead to permanent paralysis.
Most Severe Nerve Damage
The most severe type of nerve damage is known as neurotmesis. With severe crushing, stretching, or laceration of the nerves, the nerve loses function without the chance for regeneration or recovery. After severe nerve damage, the injury victim may lose all sensory, motor, and autonomic function.
Types of Nerve Injuries in Newborns
Nerve damage in newborns generally involves a traumatic birth. When the baby is too large for the birth canal, has an abnormal presentation, or is in a difficult position, it can pose a risk of injury. The nerve injuries can be caused by the baby being forced through the birth canal or improper delivery techniques that pull at the baby, or the use of assistive delivery devices like forceps or vacuum suction.
Some of the most common types of nerve injuries during childbirth include: Hand prosthesis
- Brachial plexus injuries
- Erb’s palsy
- Brachial palsy
- Klumpke’s palsy
- Shoulder dystocia
- Facial nerve palsy
- Phrenic nerve injury
- Spinal cord injury
Brachial Plexus Injuries
Brachial plexus injuries are among the most common nerve damage birth injuries. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves extending from the spinal cord through the shoulder, arms, hands, and fingers. The type of brachial plexus injury depends on where along the brachial plexus network the injury occurred and the extent of damage.
Erb’s palsy is a brachial plexus palsy that causes weakness of the arm or shoulder with damage in the upper nerves of the brachial plexus. Children with Erb’s palsy may not be able to raise one arm over their head or shoulders and be unable to reach things above their heads. The shoulder may be rotated forward, with the wrist flexed, and elbow extended. Over time, there may be atrophy of the muscles of the affected arm,
Klumpke’s palsy affects the lower 2 nerves of the brachial plexus, causing weakness in the lower arm and hand. In some cases, Klumpke’s palsy may also lead to Horner syndrome, or drooping of the eyelid on the opposite side of the face.
Shoulder dystocia may lead to brachial plexus and is caused by the baby’s shoulder getting caught in the birth canal. Shoulder dystocia is a birth emergency and can lead to permanent brachial plexus injury or fracture of the baby’s clavicle. It can also cause serious injury to the mother, including postpartum hemorrhage.
Facial Nerve Injuries
Facial paralysis can be very frightening for parents but it often resolves on its own. The facial nerve, also called the seventh cranial nerve, divides into multiple branches within the face. These nerve branches provide specific movement in the face. Nerve damage in childbirth can be caused by the position of the fetus in the womb or from trauma during delivery.
Forceps are sometimes used in a vaginal delivery to assist during the delivery. The forceps can put pressure on the baby’s face and skull, causing possible nerve damage. Forceps with too much pressure may also cause neck, back, or brachial plexus nerve damage through overstretching.
Facial paralysis due to birth trauma is usually just temporary and goes away after a few months. However, in some cases the paralysis can continue, resulting in a difference in movement between the two sides of the face.
Phrenic Nerve Damage
The phrenic nerve is the nerve that goes to the diaphragm in the chest. The phrenic nerve is partly responsible for allowing individuals to breathe and control the diaphragm. If the phrenic nerve is damaged on one side of the baby’s body, it may limit breathing ability. A baby with phrenic nerve damage may require assisted breathing until the injury can heal.
Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries in newborns are not common. If the baby’s neck, head, or back is overstretched during delivery, it can cause spinal cord damage. Spinal cord damage generally affects the nervous system below the injury, and may result in permanent paralysis. Paraplegia is the loss of ability to feel or move the lower extremities. Quadriplegia is the paralysis of the major limbs, both arms and both legs, as well as the torso. Spinal cord damage in the neck may be fatal for newborns.
Other Nerve Damage
Other nerves in the body can be injured during a traumatic childbirth but they may be less common. Nerves in the arm, leg, or back can also be injured during delivery, including the radial nerve, sciatic nerve, or obturator nerve. This can be caused by overstretching or severe compression. The nerve damage may be temporary but in a very traumatic delivery, any nerve can suffer permanent damage.
Causes of Neonatal Nerve Injuries
Neonatal nerve injuries are often caused by a traumatic birth. During childbirth, the baby’s shoulders may be impacted, stretching the brachial plexus nerves. Improper delivery techniques may make the injuries worse through overstretching the baby’s neck and head. The use of forceps or vacuum extractors can also increase the risk of nerve damage.
Nerve Damage to the Mother in Delivery
The pregnant mother may also suffer nerve damage during delivery, including:
- Lower extremity nerve injury
- Spinal cord injury through epidural error
- Nerve block errors
- Lumbosacral plexus injury
- Common peroneal nerve injury
- Lateral femoral cutaneous nerve injury
- Sciatic nerve injury
- Obturator nerve injury
- Upper extremity nerve injury
Signs of Possible Nerve Damage in a Newborn
Signs of possible nerve damage depend on which nerves were injured, the extent of the damage, and whether there were other traumatic injuries involved, like bleeding injuries or broken bones. Some signs of possible nerve damage in a newborn may include:
- Lopsided facial expressions
- Arm weakness
- Hand weakness
- Shoulder weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of movement
- Weakened grip
- Odd arm or hand position
Treating Nerve Damage for Babies
Minor nerve damage often resolves on its own. It can be difficult for a parent to sit by, not knowing if their child’s nerve damage is more serious or requires surgery. Talk to your doctor about your child’s symptoms and the best treatment options. If treatment is required, minor or moderate nerve damage may be treated through physical therapy.
More serious nerve damage may require surgery, including nerve grafts, muscle transfer, tendon transfer, or nerve transfer. In some cases, nerve damage may be permanent and treatment will involve learning to manage the injury, including:
Was Nerve Damage Caused by a Medical Error?
Newborn nerve damage may have been caused by medical negligence. However, the doctors or hospital are not likely to admit fault after a serious birth injury. If you need answers after your child suffered a nerve injury, talk to an experienced birth injury attorney who understands nerve damage.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our knowledge, experience, and dedication to fight for you to get the compensation you and your family deserve. Our aggressive trial attorneys have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to injury and medical malpractice. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.