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Birth Injuries Are Down, but They Can Be Serious When They Occur

Advances in prenatal care have made birth injuries far less common than even a few decades ago. Fortunately, most that do occur heal on their own. However, sometimes babies suffer serious injuries as they make their way into the world. We'll look at a few that can result in death or problems that may require extensive medical treatment, rehabilitation and long-term care.

Nerve injuries often result when nerves are overstretched during delivery, perhaps because the baby is too large for the birth canal or abnormally positioned. Many resolve themselves within a few weeks or months, while more serious ones may require surgery or have long-term ramifications. If the spinal cord is injured, which is extremely rare, the child may be paralyzed.

Bleeding in the brain is another injury that usually heals on its own but on some occasions has serious consequences. If not enough blood is getting to the brain, the condition is called ischemia. If there isn't enough oxygen in the blood, it's called hypoxia. Bleeding is more prevalent in babies born prematurely.

Some babies experience bleeding other places within the skull. Subdural hemorrhages, where there is bleeding between the inner and outer layers of the brain covering, are rare but generally require surgery. They can cause seizures and other problems. Most other types of hemorrhages heal with supportive measures such as intravenous fluids to help the baby's body function properly until the condition resolves itself.

A condition called perinatal asphyxia, also known as birth asphyxia, occurs when the child does not get enough oxygen during the birth or even just before or after it. This condition can be caused by a number of things, including a blood clot in the umbilical cord, an infection and sudden blood loss.

Babies who develop perinatal asphyxia have irregular breathing and heart rate are generally lifeless. They must be monitored and given treatment like IV fluids and blood transfusions. They may experience an injury to one or multiple organs. Some babies have no long-term residual effects. Others suffer permanent neurologic damage that can cause conditions like cerebral palsy and learning disabilities.

Prenatal care and monitoring can help prevent and detect potential issues before they result in birth injuries. However, we also rely on Florida doctors and other medical personnel to take measures to make childbirth as safe as possible and be alert to signs of problems after the baby is born.

Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition, "Birth Injury" Arthur E. Kopelman, MD, accessed Mar. 12, 2015

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