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Did Your Newborn Suffer Cerebral
Palsy or Another Brain Injury Before
or During Labor and Delivery?

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Our Birth Brain Injury Resource Guide

the guide

Get a FREE guide of resources available throughout Ohio to children and families of children who were born with brain injuries.

Our guide can help you build a foundation of knowledge and tools that will help you help your child
now and in the future.

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Delayed Neurological Complications after Head Trauma – Movement Disorders

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Birth Brain Injuries

Brain injuries received at birth are those that occur during or after the birth of a child. They are typically caused by oxygen being lost to the brain (hypoxic injuries) during difficult deliveries. These injuries are not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative, meaning they are not the result of family history, disease or physical abnormalities.

Elk & Elk

Causes of Birth Brain Injuries

Delivering a baby does not always go smoothly. Sometimes a child may have trouble making it through the birth canal, and a large baby can become stuck in the canal causing a brachial plexus injury. When this occurs, the nerves may be damaged due to the pulling and stretching required to free the child. An example would be if the shoulders are trapped in the birth canal and the nerves that allow the movement of hands, elbows, shoulders, and wrists are affected. The need to use forceps or a vacuum to deliver the baby can also cause damage to the child’s nerves.

Problems Resulting from Birth Brain Injuries

When nerves are damaged during the delivery, the symptoms and resulting effects will vary based on the severity of the injury and the age of the child. Children with brachial plexus injuries may experience:

  • Erb’s Palsy – When nerves in the upper portion of the brachial plexus are damaged they will be able to move the elbow or shoulder but have difficulty moving their hand and wrist.
  • Hand movement – The ability to move their hand, but experience movement issues with elbow or shoulder.
  • Global Palsy – If all nerves are damaged, there will be a lack of feeling sensations in the hand or arm.

These types of injuries result from different types of brachial plexus damage and include:

  • Avulsion – The nerve is ripped away from its connection to the spine resulting in severe damage. The arm growth and size could be affected with the possibility of life-long problems.
  • Rupture – A torn nerve (not connected to the spine) that will require surgery and physical therapy to strengthen muscles.
  • Neuroma – The nerve will tear and heal, but scar tissue is present and places pressure on damaged nerve keeping it from sending signals back and forth between muscles and nerves.
  • Neuropraxia – One or more of the nerves is damaged (stretched) and does not tear. It often heals on its own.

Other symptoms may make their presence known later (around 3 months), and the child will not be able to:

  • Grasp your fingers
  • Lift their arm
  • Bend at the wrist
  • Straighten and bend at the elbow

Movement Disorders

It is important to identify movement disorders resulting from birth injuries early on so treatment can be started to prevent lifelong damage or before surgery becomes necessary. An arm that is not used for long periods of time may need surgery to fix bone and muscle defects.

How Long Will Disorders Last?

Brain injuries sustained at birth can affect the movement or feeling in the arms and can range from moderate to severe. They may last for an extended period of time, or the damage can be temporary. Brachial plexus injuries are more common in larger babies because it is more likely for a large baby to become wedged in the birth canal. Once problems have been detected, it is important that treatment is started as soon as possible to prevent the damage from affecting the child as they grow into maturity.