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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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Spinal Cord Injury – Prognosis for Recovery

Spinal Cord Injury – Prognosis for Recovery While infants and children account for just 5% of spinal cord damage cases in America, the results of this traumatic injury at birth can leave them with a variety of additional medical issues.

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What Is an Infant Spinal Cord Injury?

Damage to the spine occurs when a medical malady or blunt force trauma affects the baby’s spine. This could present itself in the form of a bruise or a complete tear. Such damage can also be a result of a lack of diagnosis, or even a misdiagnosis, of spina bifida, which is a condition where the vertebrae fail to close completely around the spine’s raw nerves. If a child is diagnosed with spina bifida, the nerves are at risk of injury when medical staff are not aware of the condition and damage or touch the cord’s nerves.

How Does the Spine Get Injured?

Elk & Elk

The spinal cord is protected by our ligaments and vertebrae, as well as the muscles of our spine. The protection is enough to withstand the stresses of a normal, natural delivery. But, a traumatic labor and delivery can place a great deal of undue traction on the axis of the spine.

Typically, injury to a newborn’s spinal cord is the result of a mechanical trauma. This can happen during an assisted delivery, where vacuum extraction or forceps are used to aid in the delivery of the baby in a woman whose labor is not going to plan. Mishandling by the obstetrician, such as using too much force with his or her hands, can also lead to an injury. The baby’s spine can also become damaged if the head is pushed back too far or if a natural delivery is attempted when the baby’s neck is over-extended.

Other common causes include:

  • Physical trauma – as a baby moves through the mother’s birth canal, the body could be overly compressed, leading to injury. Hyperextension of the baby’s spine can also lead to severe injury.
  • Breech – babies who are breech are more likely to suffer a spinal injury than those who are born head first.
  • Congenital defects – some babies incur an injury to the spine before birth as the result of a malformation or genetic defect.

The Symptoms

Symptoms tend to vary depending on the area that has been injured and how significant the damage is. Common symptoms include:

  • The inability to move
  • Spasms
  • Loss of sensations
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing


Reports indicate that around three-fourths of infant spinal cord injuries happen in the neck. When injuries occur in this region of the spine, the consequences are serious. Infants with this kind of birth injury usually exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Paralysis
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of sensation
  • Intellectual disability
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Increased susceptibility to heart and lung problems
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Death

Reports have further indicated that around 20% of spinal injuries occur in the chest or upper back area, with a few occurring in the lower back. Generally, the higher up the injury occurs in the body; the more serious the damage tends to be.

Such injuries can have devastating long-term effects on a child, including developmental disability and paralysis. Usually, the severity depends on the kind of injury. Some spinal injuries can be considered “incomplete.” This means that the spine and the brain are still able to communicate. Other injuries may be considered “complete,” which indicates that there is a complete disconnect between the brain and the spine.

Fortunately, the outlook is not grim for all infants who have incurred such an injury at birth. Those with mild injuries can be fitted with a special orthopedic brace and be given steroids to speed up the healing. Unfortunately, in severe cases, the injuries can lead to paralysis below where the injury occurred and can be permanent. In severe cases, the injury can result in death.

Not all injuries are severe enough to lead to permanent damage, and many infants may be immobile while healing but require some sort of device to promote healing in the damaged area. It can be scary to discover that your baby’s spine was damaged, but by being aware of the causes, treatment options, and long-term prognosis, you will be better positioned to know what to expect and how you can help your baby.