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What Causes Infant Brain Damage?

illustration showing damage on human brain

Understanding the risk factors and the role of negligence.

Before, during, and shortly after birth, a baby's developing brain is highly vulnerable to injury. One of the most important things for medical professionals to do during this time is to prevent brain damage. Unfortunately, that standard of care is not always met.

Infant brain injuries can lead to a variety of lifelong medical problems, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and developmental delays. It's important to understand the risk factors that can lead to brain damage — and to pursue accountability when medical professionals fail to address those factors.

Fetal distress, birth asphyxia, and hypoxia

The most common cause of brain damage in newborns is a lack of oxygen. The brain needs a supply of oxygen to function correctly. A lack of oxygen (hypoxia) can be caused by complications during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, including uterine rupture, compression of the umbilical cord, prolapse of the umbilical cord, or placental abruption. If untreated, hypoxia can lead to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a type of brain damage that can cause cerebral palsy and other lifelong medical conditions.

A key warning sign that the baby's brain may not be getting enough oxygen is a drop in the fetal heart rate. Therefore, doctors need to monitor the heart rate during labor and delivery. Just as importantly, they must act promptly to address the situation if the baby isn't getting enough oxygen, which may include medically inducing or augmenting labor, using forceps or extractors to aid in delivery, or even delivering the baby surgically via caesarean section. Doctors can also treat hypoxia and reduce the risk of brain damage with head cooling or whole body cooling after birth.

Traumatic injuries during birth

A brain injury can also be caused by external pressure on the baby's head during labor and delivery; for instance, if the baby gets stuck in the birth canal, or if a doctor uses forceps or another medical device with too much force on the baby's head. A newborn's skull is not fully developed and thus vulnerable to injury if not handled with care.

Infections and meningitis

A baby's developing immune system is highly susceptible to infection, whether passed from the mother's body or pathogens in the hospital during labor and delivery. Untreated infections can cause inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), a life-threatening complication that can lead to seizures, vision problems, and movement problems. Doctors need to conduct appropriate tests for infection and administer antibiotics promptly if an infection puts the baby at risk.

Untreated jaundice and kernicterus

Jaundice is a medical condition that causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow due to high concentrations of a chemical called bilirubin. Jaundice is quite common in newborns, but if treated properly with phototherapy and other medical interventions, it usually goes away with no long-term consequences. However, if untreated, very high levels of bilirubin can cause bilirubin encephalopathy (BE) and kernicterus, leading to brain damage and hearing loss.

We pursue compensation and accountability for infant brain injuries

There is no such thing as a minor brain injury, and that is especially true for newborns. Brain damage can change your child's life forever, requiring a lifetime of care, medical devices, and treatment to maximize their independence and quality of life.

Your child deserves accountability for what happened and full compensation for the cost of their injury. If your newborn sustained brain damage during or shortly after birth, contact the Lancione Law Firm for a free consultation.

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