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Birth Injuries and Birth Defects

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Birth Defects can result from different factors, including environmental toxins, drug side effects and negligence. Tragically, birth defects can also result in wrongful death.


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Sadly, more than 150,000 children in the U.S. are born with birth defects. When a child is born with a birth defect or later diagnosed with a functional birth defect, parents question why and how this happened and often blame themselves. If a child suffers from a birth defect it could possibly be caused by negligence of a third party, which could give rise to legal action. Birth defect lawsuits often involve a defective drug or medical device used during pregnancy.

What are Birth Defects?

According to the CDC:
  • Major birth defects are structural changes in one or more parts of the body and they are present at birth.
  • One out of every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect with the cause often unknown.
  • Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death, resulting in 20% of all infant deaths.
  • Most common birth defects tend to affect the heart, brain, and limbs and they can influence the function or appearance of a baby’s body.
  • A serious birth defect can threaten the expected lifespan of your infant.
The difference between a birth defect and a birth injury is that the former condition happens while the infant is still in the womb, whereas a birth injury occurs while the mother is in labor or during delivery.

What are some commonly reported types of birth defects?

Birth defects can have a serious, adverse effect on the health, development, or functional ability of the baby. Common types of birth defects that could potentially be caused by carelessness of a third party are:
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Cerebral Hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation
  • Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
  • Congenital Heart Defect
  • Neural tube defects (e.g. Spina Bifida)
  • Erb’s Palsy
  • Brachial Plexus Dysfunction
  • Down Syndrome
Congenital heart defects, or CHDs, affect the structure and function of an infant’s heart. The CDC reports that CHDs are the most common type of birth defect, occurring in nearly 40,000 babies each year. Congenital heart defects are present at the time of birth, and about 25 percent of infants born with these defects require surgery. Some types of CHDs include: atrial septal defect, atrioventricular septal defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, pulmonary atresia, transposition of the great arteries, and ventricular septal defect.
  • Neural tube defects affect the spine, spinal cord, and/or brain of an infant. They are often debilitating and life-threatening conditions, such as anencephaly and spina bifida. Anencephaly occurs when a baby is born without certain parts of the skull and brain, and spina bifida affects the bones around the spinal cord.
  • Cleft lip or cleft palate defects result from a baby’s mouth or lip not forming properly during pregnancy. They are a type of “orofacial clefts,” and the CDC estimates that they occur in over 2,500 babies born each year.
  • Down syndrome is a condition resulting from a baby having an extra chromosome. An extra chromosome affects how a child’s brain and body will develop. Children with Down syndrome can experience both mental and physical difficulties. The CDC estimates that about 6,000 infants, or 1 in every 700 babies, are born with Down syndrome born annually.

Functional Birth Defect Conditions

Functional birth defects are abnormalities in the systems that run the body like the neurological, immune and endocrine systems. Functional birth defects include autism, intellectual impairment, learning and attention disorders. Some birth defects result in a lifetime disability while others are fatal.

Environmental Causes of Birth Defects

Some birth defects can be linked to exposure to medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter meds.  Birth defects are linked to chemical exposure in the home or workplace, or toxic substances that contaminate the air or groundwater in communities. The medical community urges expecting mothers to take caution to what they are eating or exposing themselves to during their pregnancy.

Environmental issues that are known to cause birth defects are:
  • Pesticides, Insecticides and DEET
  • Lead (lead paint), Mercury, and other heavy metals;
  • Radiation;
  • Petroleum products;
  • Arsenic;
  • Formaldehyde;
  • Cleaning fluids and industrial solvents;
  • Aspartame.
Pesticides and toxic chemicals may damage the parents’ chromosomes, causing them to pass damaged and defective DNA to their children, which can lead to birth defects among children who are conceived during or just after exposure. Many industries (particularly plastics and textiles) involve potential exposures to solvents. And solvents can be found in so many products, such as cosmetics and hair products.

Drugs and Birth Defects

Certain medications have also been linked to serious birth defects, including:
  • Accutane and other retinoids;
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other drugs used to treat depression;
  • Zofran, anti-nausea medication
  • Phenylephrine and certain cold medicines or nasal decongestants;
  • Opioids.
  • Anti-Seizure Drugs, Anticonvulsant Meds
Because pregnant women are not included in clinical trials (due to possible risks to the unborn baby) to determine if a medication is safe during pregnancy, the FDA has little information about the safety of such drugs. Most warnings about risks to the fetus are developed after a drug has been on the market—unfortunately some drug manufacturers who are responsible to update warning information put profit over safety and fail to warn of dangerous drug side effects.

In addition to prescription and over-the-counter medications, alcohol and tobacco have also been connected to many birth defects. It is very important for expectant mothers to talk to their doctor about any medications taken during pregnancy.

Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) and Birth Defects

Glycol ethers, toluene and numerous other well-established chemicals prominent in the fracking process are known to cause birth defects and miscarriages.

Birth Defects and Wrongful Death

The death of a child is a tragedy for family, friends and the community. A wrongful death is especially devastating for parents who have lost their child as a result of negligence or wrongdoing.

In 2017 the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In other words, over 22,000 infants died. The leading cause of death is birth defects.

No parent wants to believe their baby was the victim of medical malpractice, but errors, mistakes and missteps during the prenatal period could be the cause of a baby’s condition. Certain medical errors made by medical professionals can lead to serious, life-long injury to the baby.

Birth Defect Lawsuits

If you don’t understand your baby’s diagnosis or if you feel like your concerns aren’t being addressed, you might want to seek legal help. A birth defects attorney can help children born with birth defects achieve justice and receive compensation for their injuries.

Labor and Delivery malpractice claims often raise complex medical and legal questions.  If a doctor or nurse made a mistake during labor and delivery, they may not share that error with you. Experience birth defect lawyers can identify the causes of newborn injuries and deaths and to identify liable parties.


Prenatal and Labor and Delivery Errors

One of the most common causes of brain injury in NICU babies is lack of oxygen, and a premature baby is the most common reason for a NICU admission. Brain damage can also result from botched labor and delivery. Respiratory Distress Syndrome caused by a medical error is another leading reason why a baby arrives in NICU and sepsis or infection (that can occur prenatal or during labor and delivery or in NICU), is the most common reason for neonatal deaths.  Here are some of the more common errors and possible injury outcomes:

Failure to detect or monitor problems with fetal vitals:

Resuscitation Errors

A common cause of injury at birth is a lack of oxygen, or birth asphyxia, to the baby’s brain.
  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain (hypoxia) and/or a reduction or restriction of blood flow in the brain (ischemia). HIE is the most common cause of seizures in a newborn.
  • Neonatal encephalopathy (NE) is a brain injury that occurs when neonates experience brain dysfunction shortly after birth.

Heart Errors

  • Delay in recognizing problems with fetal heart rate
  • Misinterpretation of fetal heart monitoring strips
  • Failure to monitor fetal heart rate (tachycardia, bradycardia, late decelerations)
  • Failure to respond to a non-reassuring or ominous fetal heart rate
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. The CDC estimates that one in 345 children have cerebral palsy, and half of those have some type of co-occuring condition such as epilepsy, causing recurring seizures. Many of these cases are the result of medical mistakes during labor and delivery.

Failure to Diagnose Potential Birth Complications (e.g., baby’s head too big, breach baby):

Erb’s Palsy is a complication that results from damage to the brachial plexus nerves, and it affects about 1 out of 1,000 newborns. It’s usually caused during birth when a baby’s neck is stretched too far to the side. These nerves are located in the neck and control the movement and sensation of arms, shoulders, hands, and fingers. When the nerve is damaged, it usually results in a weakness of the arms, and those suffering from it may not be able to move or feel sensation from their arms at all.

Birth Asphyxia is lack of oxygen during birth process. Here are other common medical errors that can occur during delivery:

Delay in performing a caesarian section

  • Failure to respond to signs of fetal distress, including an emergency c section
  • Mistakes during breech delivery

Mistakes made during assisted delivery, including wrong delivery tool (e.g., complications from forceps or vacuum extractor):

  • Intracranial or cerebral hemorrhage,
  • Hematomas,
  • Seizures,
  • Brain damage,
  • Facial Paralysis

Incorrect or Improper Delivery Techniques (e.g. pressing or pulling too much during delivery):

  • Pulling or twisting on baby’s head or neck, causing brachial plexus injury (far too common)
  • Spinal cord injuries caused by pulling or twisting baby’s torso
  • Brain damage,
  • Erb’s palsy,
  • Shoulder dystocia
If improperly managed, any of the above conditions can result in serious, lifelong conditions, including HIE, cerebral palsy, seizures disordersperiventricular leukomalacia (PVL), and developmental disabilities.

Birth Injuries and Birth Defects Legal Help

If you or a loved one has suffered similar damages or injuries, please fill in our form and your complaint will be sent to a lawyer who may evaluate your claim at no cost or obligation.
Published on Apr-6-21


Posted by

I found out when my son was 4 ..he has a small space on left side of brain.. Cortical dysrythmia attention deffacit.ADHD type one age 4 he had a seizure the Dr I went to asked to get his hospital paper from when He was no n we then found out he had a stroke at birth..he's 23 now but struggles everyday with seizures.partial staring ...doesn't want to have a life outside this house..because he has panic attacks and think people are judging..he tried to go to work when he was 19..lasted a few months and had to quiet..Now Tue disability office is taking away his ssi
he has to talk yo disability examiner Tuesday and he has no idea ..what to say heck he can't do his ins are call his meds..I don't understand.. But thank you. Darlene Swihart


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