What Is a Birth Injury?

Rarely During the Birth Process is a Baby is Hurt

Woman giving birth
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Birth injury is a serious matter. Rarely during the birth process a baby is hurt, this is called a birth injury or birth trauma. It occurs in about 6 to 8 out of every 1,000 births. A birth injury can occur because of a premature birth, the size of the baby (small or large babies), position of the mother at birth, complicated labor, position of the baby, and other reasons. It is also more likely in moms who are having their first baby, a mother with gestational diabetes or mothers have pelvic abnormalities.

Types of Birth Injury:

  • Caput Succedaneum. This is severe swelling of the baby's scalp. It happens as the baby during labor and is more common in babies who were born with a vacuum extraction, though it can also happen as the baby's head presses against the cervix for long periods of time. There can also be bruising in the area of the caput. Generally this lasts only a few days and the swelling goes away on its own. Your baby may need to have an ultrasound to look for further problems in some cases.
  • Cephalohematoma. This is bleeding underneath the periostium (outer tissue covering the bone) in your baby's head. It may not appear right away after the birth but show up several hours later. Treatment is generally not necessary but it may take a few weeks or even months for this to completely disappear as the blood reabsorbs. It is estimated to occur in about 1-2% of spontaneous births but is more common in operative deliveries (forceps and vacuum extraction).
  • Bruising. This happens as the baby passes through the birth canal and is more common when a baby is born with the assistance of forceps or vacuum extractions. This also goes away on its own typically in a few days. It is also known as forceps marks when forceps are used.

  • Lacerations. A cut on your baby's skin caused usually by the scalpel in a cesarean section or from a vacuum extractor. Some may be deep enough to require sutures (stitches) or they may be glued, but the vast majority can be bandaged together. Infection is also a concern and the wound may be treated with antibiotic ointment. The location depends on how the cut occur and may depend on your baby's position in the uterus.
  • Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. This is a very common occurrence in babies. It can effect one or both eyes of your baby and simply looks like a redness in the eye. The amount of red depends on the amount of small blood vessels broken. It does not need treatment nor does it effect your baby's eyes long term. The redness can last upwards of a week.
  • Fractures. Breaking the clavicle (between the shoulder and the neck), also known as the collarbone, is another problem when there are issues delivering the baby's shoulder. Fractures of the humerus can also occur with a breech delivery. This typically heals with no treatment, though splinting may reduce pain. During the time when your baby's arm is healing, there is little movement on the side of the fracture.
  • Brachial Palsy. Damage to the brachial plexus, a group of nerves that aids the hands and arms, can cause a baby to lose the ability to move his or her arm. This may be temporary or permanent. Your baby may need x-rays, MRI or other radiographic tests to see the extent of the injury. Special exercises may be required, like physical therapy during the recovery. This is more common with a shoulder dystocia, when your baby has trouble with delivering its arm.
  • Facial Nerve Paralysis. If pressure is put on the facial nerves paralysis can occur. More common in forceps births, but can occur without it. The paralysis is usually seen when the baby cries. The damage may clear up on its own in a few weeks.
  • Intracranial Hemorrhage. This is when blood vessels are broken inside your baby's skull. This bleeding can occur in many locations depending on what caused the bleeding. It is much more common in premature infants. Signs are poor feeding and seizures to name two. If your baby is at high risk for bleeding, screenings will be done to check for an intracranial hemorrhage.

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