What is the Difference Between a Birth Injury and Birth Defect?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Jan V. Hinson with Tilton & Tilton LLP.

What is the Difference Between a Birth Injury and Birth Defect?
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Birth injuries and defects can be frightening and in some cases tragic when they occur. Although used interchangeably, these terms largely refer to two different types of physical damage. Birth injuries generally occur during the birthing process, whereas birth defects typically occur while the infant is still in the womb. However, both birth injuries and defects can occur as the result of medical malpractice, and both may result in lifelong conditions for the children who suffer them.

Birth defects are often but not always inherited, and can vary widely in severity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a birth defect is any structural change present at birth which affects how the body functions, looks, or both. These defects can vary in severity, and may or may not be the result of medical treatment received by the mother while the child was still in the womb. In many cases, birth defects are genetic, or the reason for their development is not specifically traceable. In these cases, the defect is thought to be unavoidable even with the best medical care.

If, however, the birth defect can be traced to medication or treatment prescribed to the mother while pregnant, the medical professional responsible for the prescription may be considered negligent and therefore liable. It’s important to note that some birth defects may appear identical to birth injuries, but the defining factor is whether or not the defect or injury occurred before or during the birthing process.

Birth injuries, although related, are not the same as birth defects and are more likely to be related to malpractice.

Birth injuries occur when an infant or the mother suffers harm during the labor and delivery process; a birth injury may result in a permanent health condition, or a temporary injury to the baby and/or mother. Birth injuries can be devastating, and if the injury results in neurological damage, may continue to affect the child and their family for the rest of their life.

Unfortunately, birth injuries are not always avoidable. Sometimes even excellent doctors dedicated to their patients perform births where an injury occurs. Medical professionals can help mitigate the risk of a birth injury by attentively monitoring both the mother and infant’s vital signs during the labor process; if the infant begins displaying signs of distress while in the womb, this might be an indication that an emergency Cesarean (C-Section) needs to be performed to prevent oxygen deprivation.

Oxygen deprivation plays a significant role in birth injuries.

Conditions related to oxygen deprivation and brain damage are particularly common with birth injuries, especially when medical malpractice is involved. Perinatal hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation that occurs before, during, or after the birth process, can lead to serious complications including permanent brain damage and even conditions such as cerebral palsy. However, it’s important to note that while Cerebral Palsy may be the result of oxygen deprivation during the birthing process, this is not always the case. Cerebral Palsy may also occur congenitally or while the child is still in the womb as a birth defect.

If you suspect your child’s injury or defect was the result of negligent medical treatment, you may be eligible to file a claim.

Although the majority of medical professionals are highly trained individuals dedicated to the health and wellbeing of their patients, like any field, there is the potential for malpractice. When a birth injury or defect occurs due to negligence or lack of reasonable care on the part of a medical care provider, the injured party may be eligible to file a medical malpractice claim. A successful medical malpractice claim may provide compensation for damages including medical bills, lost wages, and even future care and support needs for the child. Signs that medical malpractice might have been involved in your child’s birth injury could include a lack of attention to the fetal monitoring strips during the birthing process and a delayed C-Section.

To learn more about the difference between birth injuries and birth defects or for help filing a claim, reach out to a birth injury attorney.

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