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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

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

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now and in the future.

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Ohio Birth Injuries - Spinal Cord Injury

Delivering a child into this world is expected to be a joyous, albeit exhausting, experience. Few parents enter the child birthing experience thinking about potential injuries to mother or child during the process. Unfortunately, at least 7 out of every 1,000 live births results in an injury to the child. Of these injuries, spinal cord injuries can affect a child the most and can have lasting implications for the rest of the child’s life.

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Birth-Related Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord is actually a bundle of nerves that connect to every part of your body, allowing you to feel things, power your heart, lungs, and other organs, and move your body through life. If you injure the spinal cord during birth, the child can lose the ability to function the way non-injured children can.

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are the result of some type of trauma, whether through blunt force or some other medical intervention, leading to bruises and tears of the delicate spinal tissue. In other cases, SCIs can result from undiagnosed spina bifida, where the child’s vertebrae (the parts that make up the spine) do not fully enclose the spinal nerves. This can lead to further damage to the spinal cord as it is repeatedly touched in the normal course of handling the infant.

Boston’s Children’s Hospital estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of infant and child SCIs occur in the neck region. They also estimate that about 20% of the SCIs happen in the upper back, and 5-20% are present in the lower back.

Elk & Elk

Levels of Injury

Every spine is divided into multiple sections, which control different parts of your body. These include:

  • High-Cervical Nerves – C1-C4
  • Low Cervical Nerves – C5-C8
  • High Thoracic Nerves – T1-T5
  • Low Thoracic Nerves - T6-T12
  • Lumbar Nerves – L1-L6
  • Sacral Nerves – S1-S5

The higher the injury is on the spine, the more severe the child’s injuries will be. For example, if the injury occurs in the neck, the child may become a quadriplegic or tetraplegic, which results in a loss of sensation and/or movement in all or most of the child’s arms and legs. If the injury occurs lower along the spine, like the mid-low back, then the child might become a paraplegic, experiencing loss of function and/or sensation in the legs.

Complete vs. Incomplete Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries can vary in their severity and are categorized by being either complete or incomplete. A complete spinal injury results in a total loss of function and sensation below the location of the injury. In contrast, an incomplete spinal injury can cause a partial loss of sensation and function below the location of the injury.

How Spinal Cord Injuries Happen at Birth

SCIs occur during stressful childbirths. The baby’s spinal cord could be stretched to the point of tearing if he or she is stuck in the birth canal during a breech delivery. A spinal cord can also be twisted and torn or bruised if doctor’s attempt to turn the baby in the middle of the process. If the baby is stuck in one position for too long and the neck is hyper-extended, that can also lead to spinal cord injury. Injuries can also be caused by:

  • Incorrect use of forceps
  • Improper use of vacuum extractors
  • Giving the wrong medication
  • Infant mishandling
  • Injuries to the mother

Systems Affected

The nerves that travel through the spinal column can affect every part of your body, including the:

  • Respiratory System
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Skeletal System
  • Urogenital Systems
  • Digestive System
  • Autonomic Nervous System (regulates the things we don’t consciously do, like regulating your blood pressure)

An injury to any part of your spinal cord may affect some or all of these systems.

Prognosis for Recovery

SCIs are generally not curable at this time. If the spinal cord is bruised or torn during childbirth, the child may be disabled for life. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, the child may be able to retrain the brain to use the body in different ways

Life Expectancy

Children that experience SCIs during birth have significantly lower life expectancy numbers than children born without life-altering injuries. In some cases, life expectancy may be half-that of an otherwise healthy person.

Causes of Death

Children with SCIs can experience complications related to the injury that may cause premature death. These complications can include:

  • Sudden respiratory failure
  • heart failure
  • kidney failure
  • blood clots
  • stroke
  • infections


Once a child is diagnosed with a brain injury, depending on the severity, there may be treatments available. These treatments may reduce the extent of the injury and can include:

  • observation
  • medications
  • ventilation
  • feeding tubes
  • catheters
  • surgery

A doctor may also order extensive therapy for speech and movement issues, as well as pain management.


Children with birth-related SCIs need special medical attention, therapy and medications, usually for the rest of their lives. During the first year of the child’s life, expenses can reach the $1 million mark, with lifetime expenditures often exceeding $5 million.

Legal Considerations

Children who receive SCIs during the birthing process may experience a lifetime of chronic and acute pain, emotional trauma, and frequent medical issues that are caused by that injury. They may need to be cared for by another person for the rest of their lives. They may not be able to have the life that their parents wished for them.

If the child’s injury was caused by a mistake made by the nurses, obstetrician, or other medical professional during childbirth, the child and parents have the right to seek compensation for the pain, suffering, emotional trauma, and extensive medical costs.