Birth Trauma – Causes, Types and Symptoms

4 min read

Even a healthy pregnancy cannot guarantee a safe and uncomplicated delivery. The complication can happen any time during the birth process. Likewise, in spite of an experienced medical team, there is always a chance that something can go wrong during childbirth. A bitter fact is that the babies are prone to birth trauma. This trauma or injury can either have a temporary or permanent impact on the baby.
Birth traumas and injuries

What Is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma refers to the injury that happens to the tissues or organs of the baby usually as a result of physical or mechanical pressure applied in the course of delivery. Mostly the birth injuries are accidental. However, relying on the severity, numerous issues like broken bones, lacerations, bruising and even more serious problems such as brain injury, which has a lifetime effect on the baby, can happen during childbirth.

What Are The Reasons That Can Cause Birth Trauma?

The most common reason for birth trauma is the size of the baby, typically when the baby is too large as compared to the pelvic area of the mother. Other factors that can cause birth trauma are:

  1. Dystocia or difficult birth
  2. Abnormal fetal position
  3. Rapid and quick delivery
  4. Oligohydramnios
  5. Fetal anomalies
  6. Acceleration of the birth process
  7. Asynclitic birth, in which fetal head is no longer in proportion with the birth canal
  8. Prolonged labor
  9. Utilizing mid cavity forceps and vacuum extraction
  10. Preterm delivery
  11. Abnormally shaped or sized pelvis of the mother
  12. Large fetal head
What Are The Types Of Birth Injuries

The most widely recognized neonatal wounds that are caused in the course of pregnancy are found to affect the baby’s shoulders, neck or head, although the damage can happen to any part of the body. These areas of the body are usually affected as most babies are born in a headfirst position. The most commonly found traumatic injuries are:

    • Cranial hemorrhaging: Cranial hemorrhage refers to a condition in which the birth trauma leads to an abrupt and rapid bleeding within the skull of the baby
    • Fetal laceration: Fetal lacerations are birth injuries that can happen during caesarian section (C-section) delivery. This usually happens due to carelessness on surgeon’s part. Scratches and cuts can happen from surgical tools, forceps and different instruments wrongly utilized by a doctor while performing the C-section. Fetal lacerations are generally negligible and can be treated in the delivery room itself. Sometimes they can even be deep and as a result stitches or reconstructive surgery might be required
    • Perinatal Asphyxia: Perinatal Asphyxia is the medical condition that happens due to lack of oxygen to the newborn which can last as long as the birth process thus causing harm to the infant’s brain
    • Caput Succedaneum: Caput succedaneum is a condition that is characterized by swelling of baby’s scalp soon after birth. The pressure applied on baby’s scalp from the uterus or vaginal wall during delivery can cause this trauma. This usually happens during a long and troublesome labor, more often when the amniotic fluid is less, and baby’s head is not protected while passing through the birth canal

birth trauma

  • Fractures: Fracture caused by shoulder dystocia, which is common among breech deliveries, is one of the most recurrent injury that is associated with birth trauma
  • Bell’s palsy: Bell’s palsy happens when baby’s facial nerve gets damaged due to pressure that is applied on baby’s face as it progresses through the birth canal. As a result, facial muscle where the nerve is damaged never moves when the baby cries. Also, the eyelid remains open at that side
  • Cephalohematoma: Cephalohematoma is a condition in which gathering of blood happens beneath the baby’s periosteum which is the defensive film that covers a newborn’s skull. It appears as little, soft, bumps on an infant’s head, normally a few hours post-delivery. The size of the bump may increase. Usually no treatment is needed and it eventually disappears as the baby’s body reabsorbs the blood. In some cases, cephalohematomas can lead to jaundice if too many blood cells are affected
  • Brachial plexus injury: This happens when the shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal and the doctors use extra pressure on one arm of the baby to pull it out. The network of nerves, brachial plexus gets damaged and as a result the baby is not able to move the affected arm. Severity depends on the depth of damage. Usually with help of physiotherapy, the movements can be restored. But if the nerve damage is permanent, it cannot be corrected
  • Cerebral palsy: Brain-related injury caused by the birth trauma can lead to cerebral palsy
What Are The Symptoms Of Birth Trauma?

The common symptoms of birth trauma are:

  • Angled back while crying
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Trouble with sucking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Unreasonably fussy
  • Light sensitivity
  • Low oxygen level in blood
  • Jaundice
  • Arm or hand bend towards the body
  • Muscle stiffness or looseness
  • Skull fractures
  • Favoring one side of the body
  • Dull and weak movements

What happens after a birth trauma completely depends on the type and severity of the injury. The injury can be minor and is healed without treatment or it can have a serious lifelong effect, and in some cases it can even be fatal. Monitoring mother’s health and baby’s position throughout the delivery can sometimes help to keep birth trauma at bay.

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