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Birth Defects vs. Birth Injuries: What's the Difference?

Expectant mother with pregnant belly with little teddy toy bear, sitting on a bed. Near the bed are printouts of an ultrasound.

Birth defects and birth injuries are not the same despite similarities. Knowing the difference between a birth defect and a birth injury is crucial to determine if the cause was medical negligence or another factor.

If you suspect that your child's birth injury was a result of medical negligence, it's essential to consult with an experienced birth injury lawyer to review your potential legal options. An attorney with extensive experience in cases involving birth injuries can investigate the circumstances surrounding the injury, gather evidence, consult with medical experts, and help you seek the justice and financial compensation your family deserves.

Common causes of birth defects and birth injuries

Unlike birth injuries, birth defects result from factors during pregnancy. Birth defects often occur during the first three months of pregnancy as the baby's organs form. However, they can still develop in the later stages of pregnancy.

The leading factors that cause birth defects include:

  • Genetic factors: These involve inherited gene mutations such as cystic fibrosis, chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, and de novo mutations.
  • Environmental factors: These include maternal infections (e.g., rubella), medication exposure (e.g., thalidomide), substance abuse, radiation, and nutritional deficiencies.
  • Maternal health and lifestyle factors: This typically includes advanced age, obesity, and poorly managed diabetes.
  • Unknown causes: Sometimes, birth defects have unknown causes.

On the other hand, birth injuries are typically caused by:

  • Prolonged labor: Extended labor can result in oxygen deprivation or physical trauma to the baby.
  • Medical negligence: Errors in medical care, such as improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery, may lead to birth injuries.
  • Premature birth: Babies born prematurely have underdeveloped organs and are more vulnerable to injury.
  • Umbilical cord problems: Cord entanglement or prolapse can restrict oxygen flow to the baby.
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion: When the baby's head is too large to pass through the mother's pelvis, injuries may occur.
  • Infections: Infections during pregnancy can lead to birth injuries if not properly managed.
  • Fetal distress: Signs of fetal distress may lead to emergency interventions, potentially causing injury.
  • Inadequate monitoring: Poor monitoring during labor can result in missed warning signs.

Common types of birth defects

There are many birth defects that can manifest differently in each child. Some may have lifelong impairments, while others may need less medical care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 1 in every 33 newborns in the United States are affected each year.

Some of the most common birth defects include:

  • Heart defects: These include conditions like pulmonary atresia and hypoplastic left heart syndrome, among others.
  • Eye defects: Anophthalmia and microphthalmia are examples of eye-related birth defects.
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate defects: These conditions involve a split or opening in the upper lip and/or the roof of the mouth.
  • Esophagus defects: This involves an incomplete formation of the esophagus.
  • Abdominal defects: Conditions such as gastroschisis and omphalocele involve malformations in the abdominal wall.
  • Brain and spinal defects: These include spina bifida, anencephaly, encephalocele, and similar conditions.
  • Limb defects: This type of defect may result in missing fingers or underdeveloped arms and legs.
  • Clubfoot: This birth defect is characterized by the inward and downward twisting of one or both feet.
  • Muscle defects: Conditions such as diaphragmatic hernia involve malformations of the muscles.
  • Down syndrome: A genetic disorder resulting from the presence of an extra chromosome 21.

Common types of birth injuries

Birth injuries are often the result of medical negligence, where healthcare professionals fail to provide the standard of care required during labor and delivery. These injuries can have lifelong consequences for the child and their family.

Some of the most common birth injuries include:

  • Brachial plexus injury: This may occur when the baby's shoulder becomes stuck during delivery. This can lead to Erb's palsy or Klumpke's palsy, which affects arm and hand function.
  • Cephalohematoma: This is a collection of blood between the baby's skull and the periosteum (the membrane covering the bones). It often results from the pressure exerted during delivery.
  • Facial nerve injury: Pressure or trauma during birth can lead to facial nerve damage. This can cause facial paralysis or weakness.
  • Caput succedaneum: This is swelling of the soft tissues of the baby's head. It's typically caused by the pressure exerted during passage through the birth canal.
  • Intracranial hemorrhage: Bleeding within the baby's brain can occur due to trauma during birth.
  • Fractures: Clavicle or collarbone fractures can result from difficult deliveries.
  • Perinatal asphyxia: Oxygen deprivation during birth can lead to perinatal asphyxia. This may cause brain damage and other complications.
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE): This condition results from oxygen deprivation and reduced blood flow to the baby's brain. This can potentially cause long-term neurological issues.

If you believe your child's birth injury was due to medical negligence, it's essential to protect your legal rights. An experienced birth injury attorney can help you navigate the legal process and advocate for your child's best interests, ensuring they receive the necessary care and support for their specific condition.

Contact an experienced Ohio birth injury lawyer

At The Lancione Law Firm, attorney John A. Lancione is dedicated to advocating for families who have been affected by birth injuries and medical negligence. He has a proven track record of achieving favorable outcomes for clients and is committed to helping families find their way forward after a birth injury. To learn more about your potential legal options, contact us for a free consultation. Our office is in Rocky River, and we proudly serve clients in Ohio and across the country.

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