How Do Spinal Cord Injuries Occur at Birth?

Spinal cord injuries occur due to some type of trauma that damages the spinal cord during the birthing process. The spinal cord, which is a nerve highway that carries messages from each area of the body to the brain, suffers a disruption of some type due to the trauma. When this happens, there is a break in the pathway between the brain and the rest of the body, making it hard for the brain to communicate to those blocked-off or limitedly accessed areas.

Any type of trauma during the birthing process can create this damage. There are often several core reasons it occurs, and sometimes it may not be clearly evident. A Portland spinal cord injury attorney from Paulson Coletti, PC, is here to help.

Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injury During Birth

Many times, spinal cord injuries occur as a result of strain during childbirth. This could include:

  • Pulling
  • Using tools to support the child’s birthing process
  • Twisting
  • Or otherwise using force to remove the baby from the birth canal

There are some instances in which there is undiagnosed damage to the spine that occurs prior to birth. This can occur due to trauma to the fetus or developmental concerns.

Is a Spinal Cord Injury Medical Malpractice?

In some situations, injuries a child sustains during the birth process are due to medical malpractice. That indicates that the doctor did not provide the expected type or level of treatment during the process. Most of the time, this is not intentional, but it is a form of medical malpractice if the medical professional did not provide the type of treatment other medical practitioners would provide.

How Does That Happen?

Often, doctors aim to speed up the delivery process. This could be to limit a lack of oxygen to the child’s brain during a long birth or because the child is wedged in the birthing canal. If the umbilical cord is around the child’s neck or is compressed in any way, this may make it difficult or impossible for the child to breathe.

Additionally, there are some instances in which the doctor uses the wrong methods or tools to support the child during the delivery process. A doctor may improperly pull the child or twist the head during the birthing process. This can happen if a doctor is trying to hurry or due to a mistake in judgment.

In some situations, a doctor will use tools to help with the delivery process. This may include the use of forceps or vacuums. Doctors may use these tools to turn the child or to pull with force. This allows the doctor to encourage the baby to move through the birthing canal. However, the improper use of these tools can create damage to the spinal cord. It may stretch the nerves in this area, limiting their function.

It is also possible for some of these tools to cause physical damage to the skull, including fractures. If this occurs, it can lead to bleeding in the brain. This can cause the development of high pressure on the spinal cord, damaging the nerves.

Spina Bifida

Another instance in which medical malpractice can occur is in the lack of diagnosis of spina bifida. If doctors do not recognize the signs of the condition during pregnancy, it can cause injury to the child during the birthing process.

For a child that has spina bifida, the traditional birthing process is unsafe. It can lead to gap development between the vertebrae of the spine. These vertebrae are hollow bones that create a pathway for the spinal cord to follow. They protect it from any injury or damage. When these gaps occur, there is the risk of the spinal cord being exposed, leading to a high rate of potential birth injury.

Complete and Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

A complete spinal cord injury refers to an incident in which the spinal cord is severed completely. This typically leads to a person having no movement or feeling below where it was severed. In these situations, complications often include lifelong paralysis in those impacted areas.

An incomplete spinal cord injury refers to a case in which only a portion of the nerves suffered damage. This leads to some loss of sensation and movement below the area of damage. Depending on the severity of this partial injury and the location, some infants recover from this condition and suffer no long-term implications. Other times, the injuries are more significant and may lead to limited improvement.

What Situations Can Lead to Spinal Cord Injuries at Birth?

The spinal cord is a complex network of very important but also very delicate nerves. Damage to any of these leads to some risk of paralysis or other limitations. Around the spinal cord are the vertebrae, as well as numerous ligaments that work together to protect the nerves. Any of these areas can suffer damage, exposing the nerves. When that happens, the impacted nerves – which could control a variety of sensations – could be damaged.

The following are some of the main reasons these types of injuries occur and why doctors take excessive steps during the birth process.

  • The baby is breech, meaning the child is not head-first in the birth canal. This often requires assisted delivery as the child’s head may become stuck at the neck.
  • Premature birth, which can lead to many of these tissues not being fully formed
  • Prolonged labor can happen if the child’s head gets caught in the birthing canal.
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion, which occurs when the child’s head is too large for vaginal delivery, often requiring a caesarian section.
  • Shoulder dystocia, which can happen if the child’s shoulder becomes stuck in the pelvis

In any of these situations, doctors have specific protocols to use to minimize risk to the child and to ensure the mother’s safety. In situations where that does not occur, and the doctor does not follow the expected type of treatment in the situation – the same type of treatment that any other doctor would reasonably provide – that could be medical malpractice.

Speaking to a Portland birth injury attorney about what happened at the birth of your child could help clarify whether medical malpractice occurred. Call the office of Paulson Coletti, PC, today to schedule a free consultation.