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Spinal cord injuries during birth

Damage to a baby’s spinal cord during delivery can have devastating and life-long consequences. While these cases are rare – 5 percent of spinal cord cases in the United States each year— around 60 to 75 percent of infant spinal cord injuries will occur in the neck area. The higher the injury occurs along the baby’s spine, the more severe the damage will be.

How do spinal injuries occur?

Unfortunately, there is little you can do as a parent to prevent spinal cord injuries from occurring during the birthing process. Spinal cord injuries can occur for a variety of reasons.

Generally, they are the result of blunt force trauma that occurs from vacuum extraction or forceps used to pull the baby through the birth canal. However, they can also occur from a breech delivery, rotation, hypertension and overstretching of the fetal head, as well as impact and injury from the surgeon’s own hands.

What are the symptoms?

Many of the consequences of infant spinal cord injuries can be permanent. Depending on the severity of the damage and the location of the injury, infants can experience the following symptoms:

  • Spasms
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Loss of touch and other sensations
  • Weakness
  • Stinging pain
  • Nerve damage
  • Paralysis

Infants with spinal cord injuries can also experience bowel and bladder problems, which can be difficult to detect in babies. In rare cases, spinal cord injuries sustained during birth can even be fatal.

An estimated 11,300 newborns die each year in the United States during their birth or later that day. Around 23 percent of these infants die because of birth complications, including spinal cord injuries. If your delivery doctor caused or failed to prevent your baby’s spinal cord injury, you may have a claim for a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit.

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