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How can a brain injury occur during childbirth?

Brain injuries during childbirth are fortunately rare, but when they occur they can have devastating consequences on the child, impacting their development and leaving them with the prospect of lifelong disabilities.

Understanding the risks is essential to minimise the likelihood of a brain injury occurring during childbirth. Monitoring these potential risk factors is one of the key roles of the medical team handling a birth and any failure to correctly deal with these risks could amount to medical negligence.

Oxygen deprivation

Also known as birth asphyxia, this is where an infant does not get enough oxygen directly before, during or immediately after childbirth. This can result in their brain not getting enough oxygen, causing their brain cells to ‘starve’ and die.

There can be various reasons for oxygen deprivation in an infant, including issues with the umbilical cord, low blood pressure in the mother and the baby’s airways becoming blocked.

While a baby with mild to moderate birth asphyxia will often make a complete recovery, those who experience more serious oxygen deprivation can suffer a range of long-term consequences, including permanent brain damage.

Traumatic brain injury

One of the leading causes of infant brain injury is the incorrect use of birth-assistance tools, such as forceps and vacuums. These can cause serious injury to a child’s brain if not used appropriately, leading to severe physical trauma.

It is therefore essential that in potentially difficult childbirths, appropriate medical intervention, such as the use of caesarean sections, is considered and implemented quickly. This can avoid the risk of a baby becoming stuck in the birth canal which makes it more likely birth-assisting tools will be needed.

Maternal infection

Infections in the mother can lead to a higher risk of premature birth and can also be passed to the child during birth, both of which significantly increase their risk of experiencing serious brain damage.

Common maternal infections that can affect a child during its birth include rubella, herpes, syphilis, cystitis, vaginal yeast infections and venereal warts. If it therefore important that any infection expectant mothers are carrying are identified, appropriate treatment provided and any risk to the baby is carefully managed.


Jaundice is a condition caused by an excess of bilirubin, the yellow pigment in red blood cells. Bilirubin is toxic to brain cells, so can cause brain damage leading to a number of conditions including kernicterus and acute bilirubin encephalopathy.

Most cases of infant jaundice will get better on their own without treatment, however, it is important that the condition is carefully monitored and that treatment is given swiftly if required. This can include phototherapy (i.e. using a special type of light to help the body break down excess bilirubin) or a special type of blood transfusion to reduce the levels of bilirubin.

Funding treatment and support for your child

If you child suffered a brain injury due to medical negligence during their birth, they may be entitled to brain injury compensation. This can be used towards funding the cost of any treatment and on-going care needs your child has, helping to ensure that they have the best possible quality of life.

To start a brain injury compensation claim for your child, it is strongly recommended to speak to a specialist child brain injury lawyer. They will have the expertise to advise you on the strength of your claim and guide you through the entire process of securing compensation.


About the author

Rachel Slifka

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