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Birth Injury Risk Factors: What Parents Should Know

Understanding How Birth Injuries Happen

When a baby sustains a birth injury, it means that they have suffered severe physical damage. Learning that your baby has suffered a birth injury can be devastating news, especially when your baby has progressed healthily throughout your pregnancy. However, knowing the risk factors involved and how birth injuries happen can help you better communicate with doctors caring for you and your baby.

Use of Forceps During Delivery

Use of forceps may be necessary in some cases of vaginal childbirth. Forcep instruments are similar to large spoons and are applied to a baby’s head to assist the baby out of the birth canal as the mother pushes during contractions. Doctors may use forceps in the following situations:

  • Prolonged labor - Forceps may be necessary when the mother is pushing, but labor isn’t progressing.
  • Health concerns of the mother - Doctors may want to limit the amount of time a mother must push if they have medical problems such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Changes in the baby’s heartbeat - When the mother is fully dilated, and the baby is low in the birth canal, any changes in the heartbeat could indicate fetal distress. Because the baby must be delivered immediately, a doctor will often use forceps to speed up the process.

Forceps Delivery Complications

While forceps delivery may be recommended in some cases, it can also come with the following risks to your baby:

  • Facial injuries from forceps pressure.
  • Facial palsy (temporary weakness to the facial muscles).
  • Skull fractures.
  • Bleeding within the skull.
  • Seizures.

Use of Vacuum Extraction During Delivery

Just like the use of forceps, vacuum extraction is used to aid in vaginal delivery. As the mother pushes during a contraction, a suction cup with a handle and vacuum pump is placed on the baby’s head to help guide the baby out of the birth canal. Vacuum extraction may be used in the following situations:

  • The baby is stuck in the birth canal.
  • The baby is under fetal distress, and immediate delivery may be necessary.
  • The mother is too tired to push.
  • The mother has medical problems, such as a heart condition or high blood pressure.
  • Doctors need to limit the amount of time a mother pushes to reduce the risks of certain complications for both the baby and mother.

Vacuum Extraction Complications

Even though vacuum extraction may be necessary under certain circumstances, the following risks to a baby should be considered:

  • Skull fractures or bleeding within the skull can result from a baby’s head being pulled with too much force.
  • Shoulder dystocia can happen when the baby’s shoulder is stuck after the head has been delivered.
  • Retinal hemorrhages can result from head trauma during the vacuum extraction if there is repetitive acceleration or deceleration of the newborn.
  • Brachial plexus injuries can occur if an infant’s head is stretched too far from one shoulder — this can affect the sensory and motor functions of the shoulder or arm. Brachial plexus injuries can also be the cause of Erb’s palsy, a condition that affects the nerves within the neck that control arm motion.
  • Cerebral palsy can result if a baby is pulled from the birth canal with too much force. This damage affects muscle coordination and body movement.


Preeclampsia is a form of hypertension or high blood pressure in pregnant mothers who would otherwise have normal blood pressure. Symptoms of preeclampsia may include but are not limited to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Excess protein in the urine (proteinuria)
  • Swelling (edema)
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal/stomach pain
  • Blurry vision or other vision changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

Preeclampsia Complications

When left untreated or undiagnosed, preeclampsia can cause the following severe birth injuries:

  • Brain injuries - When a mother has high blood pressure, it can interrupt the baby's flow of oxygen and blood, and cause a brain injury. Some of the most common brain injuries caused by preeclampsia are:
  • Premature birth - If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia and your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend inducing labor early. However, premature birth can lead to breathing and other complications for your baby.
  • Head Cooling/Hypothermia Therapy

Head cooling/hypothermia therapy is a treatment used to reduce the effects of a lack of oxygen. The treatment involves reducing the infant's body temperature for a certain amount of time to prevent brain cells from dying. Besides delaying the death of brain cells, the benefits of head cooling may include:

  • Reducing the effects of excitotoxicity (when brain cells die from excessive neurotransmitter levels.)
  • Preventing apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, which can be triggered by a hypoxic anoxic brain injury.

Complications with Head Cooling/Hypothermia Therapy

Although a baby can benefit from head cooling therapy, a brain injury can happen if the treatment isn’t administered correctly or within the proper amount of time. In addition, some hospitals may not be equipped to administer this therapy, which means that your baby may need to be transported to another facility for treatment.

Has Your Baby Suffered a Birth Injury? We can Help.

A preventable birth injury isn’t just shocking, it’s emotionally taxing for parents and family members. If your baby has suffered a birth injury, you have the right to seek justice.

At Bandas Law Firm, P.C., we understand the life-altering burdens that a birth injury can have on parents. Let us help you recover compensation so that your baby’s future care and medical needs are secured.

Contact us today at (505) 393-6303 to learn how we can assist you.