Brain Damage at Birth: What Causes it?

Long before adding up numbers at school, a baby’s brain adds cells and neurons as it develops in the womb. Gestation is a crucial time for brain development. For many children, the process continues without a hitch. But sometimes things go awry during delivery, causing brain damage at birth. 

In this article, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about newborn brain damage. Sometimes it’s the result of a doctor’s negligence. If you think that describes your child’s case, give our lawyers a call. 

Complications from brain injury at birth.

What is Brain Damage at Birth?

This term means that an illness or adverse event injured a baby’s brain at or around birth. 

There are two categories of brain damage:

  • Widespread. The injury occurred throughout the brain. 
  • Localized. A specific part of the brain is injured.

Doctors also group brain damage into three tiers: mild, moderate, and severe. Infant hematoma is an example of mild damage, while subdural hemorrhages are usually classified as moderate. An anoxic brain injury is severe brain damage at birth from a lack of oxygen.

What Causes Brain Damage at Birth?

There are many possible causes of birth-related brain damage. We’ll share the most common ones below.

Brain Damage from Physical Trauma

Physical trauma, such as excessive pressure or a blow from a fall, can cause brain damage. One example is when doctors apply too much pressure when using forceps to deliver a baby.

Brain Damage at Birth from Lack of Oxygen

A knotted umbilical cord or some other medical emergency can cut off a baby’s oxygen supply. That can cause hypoxia, where brain cells die from a lack of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation is the leading cause of brain damage at birth. 

Brain Damage from Maternal Infections

When a mom gets sick, her baby can get sicker. An infection like cytomegalovirus (CMV) might cause mild problems for the mother, but serious ones for her child. Rubella, toxoplasmosis, and chorioamnionitis (amniotic sac infection) can all lead to newborn brain damage. 

Brain Damage from Kernicterus

Jaundice is a common condition where bilirubin builds up in a baby’s blood. It can make their skin and eyes look yellow. With swift treatment, babies can recover from it as if it never happened. But untreated jaundice can lead to a type of brain damage called kernicterus. Kernicterus can cause hearing loss, cerebral palsy, and even death. 

Newborn baby grips mother's finger.

Types of Brain Damage at Birth

These are some of the most common types of brain damage that can occur at birth:

  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). A complication, such as prolonged labor, interrupts blood flow and oxygen flow to the baby’s brain. 
  • Hydrocephalus. This is a buildup of fluid that increases a baby’s head size. It can also put pressure on the brain and cause epilepsy and/or disability. 
  • Cephalohematoma. This is when blood pools beneath a newborn’s skull. Some are like bruises and heal on their own. Larger ones can put pressure on the brain and damage it.
  • Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).  With PVL, the brain’s white matter is damaged from a lack of blood flow. The white matter is the inner part of the brain that controls motor function. 
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH). This term describes bleeding within the brain’s ventricles. It happens more often with premature babies. 

Can Babies Recover From Brain Damage?

Many babies who experience brain injuries do recover. With proper treatment, they can pull through mild brain damage unscathed.  

But moderate or severe damage is a different side of the coin. It can lead to permanent conditions for which a child will need lifelong treatment or therapy, such as:

Mother comforting her young child.

Legal Help for Brain Damage at Birth

Newborn brain injuries can occur despite a doctor’s best efforts. But sometimes they happen because a professional makes a very unprofessional decision during delivery. Such decisions can lead to negligence and malpractice. 

But when does a doctor’s bad decision warrant a malpractice lawsuit? Here are some examples of may give you grounds to sue:

  • Straying from protocol (they fail to follow the “standard of care”)
  • Ignoring warning signs and symptoms that brain damage is imminent
  • Failing to monitor mothers who are at high risk for birth injuries
  • Using too much force to pull a baby out with forceps, when they should order a C-section

If a doctor’s negligence causes a baby’s brain injury, parents may sue for damages. They can use this money to pay for the treatment their child may need throughout their lifetime. 

Was your child’s brain damage at birth preventable? If so, you could be eligible for financial compensation. We invite you to get in touch with our birth injury lawyers here. Your initial consultation is absolutely free.