What is the Difference between a Birth Defect and a Birth Injury?

June 9, 2021 Medical Malpractice

Birth defects develop during pregnancy due to genetics, inherited conditions, environmental factors, or other causes. They include conditions such as cleft palate, club foot, heart defects, and spina bifida, in which the spinal cord isn’t properly developed. The exact causes of these defects often aren’t known, and they usually aren’t preventable.

On the other hand, birth injuries can happen to otherwise healthy babies during labor and delivery. They can be caused by the use of forceps, vacuum extractors, staying in the womb too long, medication errors, mishandling during and right after birth, and for other reasons. Birth injuries can sometimes be the result of a doctor or other medical provider’s negligence. Negligence by healthcare providers can lead to medical malpractice claims.

Birth defects affect one out of every 33 babies born in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth injuries harm seven out of every 1,000 babies, statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality show.  

Types of Serious Birth Injuries

Here are some of the serious and often preventable injuries that can happen during labor and childbirth:

  • Brachial palsy or Erb’s palsyBrachial palsy is weakness or paralysis of the arm and hand. It can be caused when an infant’s neck is stretched far to one side during delivery, resulting in nerve damage.
  • Brain damageDamage to the brain can occur from lack of oxygen, which can happen with umbilical cord problems, when a fetus remains in the womb too long and for other reasons.
  • Cerebral palsyCerebral palsy may result when the area of the brain that controls movement is damaged. Cerebral palsy causes problems with movement and posture and can sometimes cause seizures, intellectual disabilities, and other issues.
  • Epidural hematoma – An epidural hematoma is bleeding between the skull and the brain caused by a skull fracture. Infants with epidural hematoma can experience seizures and additional problems.
  • Facial paralysis, or facial nerve palsy – Facial paralysis results from pressure on the facial nerve right before or during delivery.
  • Fractures to different parts of the body can happen during a difficult birth. Fractures of the clavicle or collarbone are the most common birth fractures, according to Stanford Children’s Health, and typically heal relatively quickly. More serious spinal fractures are rare, but they can cause permanent or temporary paralysis.

How Can You Tell if Your Baby Has a Birth Defect or a Birth Injury?

Often the type of injury itself can tell you whether your baby has a birth defect or a birth injury. As discussed earlier, birth defects are often genetic or inherited. Birth injuries are due to trauma during birth or other labor- and delivery-related factors. But because the cause of birth defects isn’t always known, it’s not always clear how a baby’s health problems happened. If you suspect your child was injured due to substandard medical care during the labor and birthing process, you might consider speaking with a birth injury attorney to get answers to your questions.

Consequences of Serious Birth Injuries

Serious birth injuries can result in physical and mental disabilities in children and potentially the need for surgeries, rehabilitation, and long-term medical care. They can happen with even the most competent doctor performing the delivery, depending upon all the circumstances, and may not be preventable.

There are also cases, though, when birth injuries are directly due to a healthcare provider’s negligence. Negligence is when a doctor or other medical provider doesn’t deliver the reasonable standard of care that another doctor would have in a similar situation. If negligence has occurred, you may have a medical malpractice claim for your baby’s injuries.

The costs of a birth injury can quickly add up. If your newborn was injured due to negligence, you have the right to hold the at-fault party accountable through a malpractice claim. You could possibly get compensation to pay for medical treatment and other care your child may need because of their unforeseen injuries.

A Central Difference between a Birth Defect and a Birth Injury: Compensation for Harm to Your Child

Possible Compensation in Birth Injury Medical Malpractice Claims

Depending on the severity of your child’s injuries, you may be able to get compensation for the following damages in a medical malpractice claim:

  • Doctor, hospital, therapy, rehabilitation, and other medical expenses
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Medical equipment and devices
  • Costs of long-term nursing or other care
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish.

Every case is different when it comes to compensation, because every injury is different. What damages you may be able to claim will depend upon the severity of your child’s specific injuries and the extent of care they will need to treat the injuries.

Proving Medical Malpractice in Birth Injury Cases

Proving medical malpractice in birth injury cases isn’t easy. First you must show that the doctor or other provider breached the duty of care they owed you and your baby. You’ll have to prove that they misused a forceps or other tool, failed to monitor your baby for signs of fetal distress, should have ordered a C-section but didn’t, or negligently failed in another way, which led to your newborn’s injuries.

The medical establishment often looks out for its own, so proving negligence will be hard, because those who were there in the birthing room may be unwilling to to step up and support your claim. With the help of an attorney who is skilled in handling birth injury cases, you could get the money you need for your baby’s injury. An attorney will work to prove that your child was the victim of negligence by bringing in medical experts to testify on your behalf and otherwise establishing evidence.

Find out Whether You Have a Case: Reach Out to a Skilled Houston Birth Injury Attorney

At the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant in Houston, we help parents get answers to their questions about birth injuries. If you believe your child suffered preventable injuries during labor or delivery, we’ll examine all the circumstances to discover whether negligence occurred. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation about your case with a birth injury attorney, call our law firm at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000 today.

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