Some babies may be injured simply by being born. Injuries usually occur in the birth canal and often involve very large babies. Most injuries are not severe and will heal with time. However, some injuries may be severe and even life-threatening.
During birth, your child’s skin, nerves, bones, spinal cord or other delicate parts may be injured.
If you notice that your baby is restless, in distress, has physical wounds or cries when you touch some parts of their body, notify your healthcare provider immediately.
Your baby's symptoms depend on the nature of the birth injury:
- Soft tissue injuries will show as bruises, abrasions and lacerations.
- Abdominal symptoms can be a symptom of liver injury.
- Fractures can show up as soft, painful swellings, and your baby may cry a lot.
- A facial injury can show up as swollen eyes, teary eyes, and your child's inability to follow hand movements.
- Nerve injury can show up when your baby is unable to move a limb or when it experiences pain when moving.
Other symptoms of birth injuries include:
- Bruises or swelling on the face, head and shoulder.
- Pain in the head, neck, face or body.
- Inability to use arm or leg.
- Stiff or floppy muscles.
- Muscle weakness or paralysis.
- Head tilted to one side.
- Breathing difficulties.
- Excessive and loud crying.
- Difficulty learning new things.
- Difficulty communicating with others.
- Too much force or instruments used during delivery.
- Overuse of delivery drugs.
- When a baby is in the wrong position or wrong direction before delivery and the healthcare provider has not noticed or does not take appropriate steps to safeguard the baby.
- Childbirth complications, for instance when delivery takes a very long time.
Risk factors for birth injuries in newborns include:
- Large babies who weigh more than 4kg.
- Low birth weight and preterm delivery of the baby.
- Babies who are born with a head that is larger than average.
- Disorders that take place during the baby’s growth in the womb. These may be genetic.
- Babies who appear with buttocks or feet first during labour.
Risk factors related to the mother and her health:
- Being overweight.
- Having uncontrolled, high blood sugar during pregnancy.
- Risks are higher for a first pregnancy.
- When the mother’s pelvis is too small, or the baby is too big to pass safely through the birth canal.
- Prolonged labour can increase the risk of harm to your baby.
Risk factors related to medical care:
- Your healthcare provider may use certain instruments (e.g. forceps, vacuum extractor) to assist delivery. This may cause injuries to the baby.
- Medical negligence, such as exerting too much force while pulling or twisting the baby during delivery.
Upon delivery, birth injuries are often noticed right away and treated. However, some symptoms may not appear for several days. You should see a healthcare provider if you notice any of these signs:
- Seizures or convulsions.
- The baby is too silent or too loud.
- Unusual drooling.
- Poor feeding.
- Muscle weakness or stiffness, or paralysis.
- Absence of normal reflexes.
Large and dark discolouration of the skin and swelling of the stomach are two danger signs. Take your baby to the health centre immediately.
- Attend your regular antenatal clinic for check-ups.
- Follow the advice of your healthcare provider.
- Maintain an active lifestyle and a good diet during pregnancy.
Birth trauma is best treated as soon as possible after delivery. It is not managed at home, except when the injury is not severe and heal with time. Your healthcare provider will examine your newborn baby and may recommend some tests. The treatment will depend on the nature of the injury and its severity.
- In case of fractures or nerve damage, the affected limb may need to be immobilized.
- Your healthcare provider may recommend surgery or physical therapy.
Birth injuries are not always evident after delivery and they can show after some time. Delivering your child at a healthcare centre reduces the chances injuries being overlooked and left untreated.