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Conventional wisdom may assume that a brain injury in a newborn is most typically caused by oxygen deprivation during labor.

However, a new report suggests that asphyxia during labor and delivery may actually account for only about half of the brain injuries suffered by American babies born full-term. Potential breaches in a doctor’s duty of care to women over the course of their pregnancy may also be to blame, as well as maternal or genetic factors.

For example, a doctor is expected to monitor the health of a woman and the fetus during the pregnancy. With proper testing, conditions like fetal membrane infections or placental abnormalities might be detected early and treated. If left untreated, such conditions might exacerbate the effects of oxygen deprivation during birth.

Unfortunately, it’s often easier to determine the symptoms of neonatal encephalopathy, or brain disorders affecting full-term newborns, rather than its cause. For that reason, doctors must often evaluate several factors in determining whether asphyxia was the cause of brain injury. In contrast, the symptoms of neonatal encephalopathy are often quite visible and may include poor reflexes, seizures, impaired breathing or other signs of disturbed neurological functioning.

When a newborn is born with a brain injury, the last thing on a new mother’s mind might be the elements of causation needed to prevail in a medical malpractice suit. Yet an attorney who has experience in personal injury and negligence claims knows that a thorough investigation of all possible causes of the birth injury may be needed to convince a jury of the doctor’s fault, thus warranting an award of compensation. 

Source: The New York Times, "Hurt Before the Birth," Jane E. Brody, May 5, 2014

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