A Nationwide Birth Injury Resource

Spinal Cord Injuries During Birth

The spinal cord is a long nerve that connects the brain to the rest of the body. Injuries to the spinal cord can cause serious symptoms, including paralysis. Unfortunately, because newborns' bodies are so vulnerable, spinal cord injuries commonly occur as birth injuries.

How spinal cord injuries happen during birth

There are two main ways for injuries to the spinal cord to happen during birth:

Birth trauma - Sometimes, during a difficult delivery, traction on the infant's trunk can cause damage to the spinal cord. This is particularly common when the infant is in an abnormal position, such as face-up or feet-first (breech). It is also possible for the spinal cord to be overextended and overstretched during delivery, which can again have lifelong complications.

Infections - An untreated infection can cause meningitis, which is an inflammation, or swelling, of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. This sometimes occurs when an infection is passed from the mother's body to the baby's body during labor and delivery. Meningitis can cause spinal cord injuries, as well as brain injuries.

Symptoms of spinal cord injuries

The symptoms of a spinal cord injury can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. In general, symptoms can include:

  • Spasms
  • Stinging pains
  • Weakness
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bowel and bladder control problems
  • Loss of sensation
  • Partial or complete paralysis

The prognosis also varies widely depending on the severity of the injury. An incomplete injury means the brain still has a pathway to send and receive messages, which means it's possible to restore motor and sensory functions. A complete injury means total loss of sensory and motor functions that depend on anything below that point on the spinal cord.

Understanding your child's legal rights

Many spinal cord injuries sustained during birth are due to preventable causes. Complications that lead to spinal cord injury can be anticipated and addressed by doctors who follow standards of care. As the lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury can be high, it is critically important that families of children with spinal cord injuries understand their legal options. You can use our free consultation service to schedule an appointment with a birth injury lawyer in your jurisdiction.