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Infant Brain Damage Lawyers in Chicago

Causes of Baby Brain Injury

Standard of Medical CareNeonatal brain damage may arise from any number of causes, although most commonly, it is the result of a blunt physical trauma to the skull during delivery or labor, jaundice, infections of the mother, or a deprivation of oxygen. Some of the most common causes include:

Oxygen Deprivation

Also known as Birth Asphyxia or Intrapartum Asphyxia, premature babies are at higher risk for this deprivation of oxygen. Although babies are able to compensate for very short periods of time without oxygen, only a tiny window exists after birth before injury, destruction of brain tissue and brain damage will begin to occur. Brain cell damage occurs usually in the first few minutes followed by reperfusion injuries which occur after the flow oxygen and blood resumes.

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)

A particularly dangerous form of infant brain injury that occurs either due to restricted blood flow to the infant's brain (ischemia) or a deprivation of oxygen (hypoxia / hypoxemia) in the infant's blood. Complications during birth that can cause Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy include:

  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Anemia at birth
  • Acute maternal hypotension
  • Placenta separating too early (placental abruption)
  • Delivery problems / baby stuck in birth canal
  • Prolapsed cord
  • Uterine rupture
  • Stress of delivery or labor
  • Ruptured vasa previa
  • Intrapartum hemorrhage
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion injury
  • Cardiac complications

Fetal Stroke

A fetal stroke may be the result of maternal infection, low or high blood pressure of mother, blocked blood flow within the placenta or blood-clotting abnormalities. The use of a vacuum extractor or forceps may also lead to a fetal stroke due to oxygen deprivation. Often times, Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy will occur at the same time.


A common condition in babies, especially in premature babies, it presents as a yellowish color to the eyes and skin as a result of excessive bilirubin, which is found in red blood cells. Although jaundice is usually easily treatable, if left untreated, the levels of bilirubin may increase and create a dangerous condition called kernicterus or acute bilirubin encephalopathy both of which may lead to infant brain damage. Symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Arching of back
  • High-pitched crying
  • Fever
  • Inability to feed


It is vital for the oby/gyn or other attending doctor to closely monitor the health of the mother to rule out infection during pregnancy. According to one study, babies of mothers with certain infections may be at higher risk for cognitive issues, schizophrenia and childhood epilepsy. Other complications may include increased risk for cerebral palsy, physical disabilities or brain damage. Some of these maternal infections which may give rise to such injuries include:

  • Rubella
  • Cystitis
  • Herpes
  • Staphylococcus (staph) infections
  • E coli
  • Meningitis
  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Varicella
  • Venereal warts
  • Syphilis
  • Diarrhea
  • Pyelonephritis


Trauma or force of any type applied to a newborn's head during delivery may cause infant brain damage for obvious reasons. During delivery, such trauma may occur as a result of the improper use of birth-assisting devices such as vacuums or forceps, or may occur by pulling on the baby or applying too much force during delivery through the birth canal.

Vacuum Extraction

One of the medical tools that the physician can use to assist in delivery is a vacuum extractor. Although its purpose is to help guide the baby out of the birth canal, if too much suction or pressure is applied, it may create a cranial bleed which is known as a subgaleal hemorrhage. When this happens, a vein ruptures and blood flows into the space between the skull and the scalp. Severe oxygen deprivation and brain damage may then result. Use of this device may also cause strokes, blood clots, intracranial hemorrhages and trauma to the spinal cord if used incorrectly.

Umbilical Cord Problems

As the umbilical cord is the conduit of oxygen-rich blood from the mother to the baby, the doctor must take care to avoid any interruption of blood flow. Potential problems that may lead to infant brain damage include:

  • True knot in cord
  • Prolapsed umbilical cord
  • Short umbilical cord
  • Cord wrapped around baby's neck

Uterine Rupture

If the uterus tears or ruptures, serious hemorrhaging of the mother's blood will likely occur. The extreme blood loss may decrease the blood flow to the baby or the tear may decrease the flow of blood between placenta and the uterus. In some circumstances, the baby may even fall out of the uterus is the ruptures is large enough. In any event, a rupture that leads to significant blood loss can result in infant brain damage if not managed promptly and correctly by the medical staff.

Eclampsia and Preeclampsia

When a mother is diagnosed during pregnancy as having high blood pressure and protein in her urine, this is generally called preeclampsia. This condition may decrease the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the baby due to damage to the placenta or constriction of the blood vessels. Preeclampsia, or its associated more serious condition of eclampsia (which may lead to seizures or coma in the mother) also increase the risk of placental abruption. Any of these conditions may lead to infant brain damage under certain circumstances.

Anesthesia Errors

If the anesthesiologist incorrectly manages the administration of drugs to the mother at any time during delivery, it may result in a loss of blood pressure and a hypotensive crisis. This loss of blood pressure may then result in decreased blood flow and oxygen to the baby, in turn leading to newborn brain damage.

Abnormal Presentation

When babies of normal size are delivered head first through the birth canal, chances of complications are at a minimum. But when the baby presents abnormally, the chances for complications and injury dramatically increase. Umbilical cord problems, brain bleeds or head trauma may occur if the delivery is not managed properly by the doctor or medical staff. If the baby presents abnormally as in any of the following examples, sometimes a doctor should elect to perform a C-Section to reduce the likelihood of complications, rather than proceed vaginally:

  • Breech birth (buttocks or feet first)
  • Occiput posterior presentation ("sunny-side up")
  • Face presentation (face first)
  • Brow presentation (neck arched so brow first)
  • Transverse lie

Placental Abruption

The normal pathway for oxygen-rich blood to travel from the mother to the baby is a movement from the blood vessels in the uterus and placenta, then to the umbilical cord where the blood is distributed throughout the baby's circulatory system. But in a placental abruption, the placenta actually pulls and tears away from the womb (uterus). Is this circumstance, the blood flow is significantly interrupted which may result in infant brain damage if not properly and quickly handled by the doctor.

Placenta Previa

When the placenta grows too close to the uterus opening, it may completely or partially block the cervix/birth canal. In such a situation, a C-Section may be advised as a vaginal delivery may cause excessive bleeding, which could lead to oxygen deprivation and infant brain damage.

Forceps Delivery

Although not used much anymore, forceps are tongs that are placed on the baby's skull to help guide him or her out of the birth canal. As use of this device is not as common as it once was, doctors are often not skilled in their use. Yet, a failure to use forceps properly can easily lead to trauma to the baby's spinal cord or skull, and may cause a hemorrhage, blood clot or brain bleed leading to brain damage.

Prolonged or Arrested Labor

Oxygen deprivation may occur when labor goes on too long or stops and starts. The contractions that occur during labor are very traumatic to the baby, so the longer or the more abnormal the labor, the greater the likelihood that oxygen deprivation may occur, ultimately leading a brain injury.


This is a complication that is characterized by lower than normal levels of amniotic fluid. Such a condition may lead to a compressed or prolapsed umbilical cord or to meconium aspiration. Meconium aspiration happens when the baby ingests a mixture of stool and amniotic fluid in the lungs. Resulting respiratory issues may cause distress and lower oxygen levels leading to brain damage if the doctor does not act quickly and effectively.

Premature Rupture of the Membranes (PROM)

If the mother's water breaks before going into labor, umbilical cord compression and premature birth with lungs not fully developed may occur. Infection risks such as meningitis and sepsis are increased as well. Each of these potential problems increases the risk of neonatal brain damage if the ob/gyn does not act promptly and properly.

Contact Our Birth Injury Legal Team in Chicago

The birth of a baby always requires the doctor, anesthesiologist and nursing staff to be at their very best. Medical conditions and unforeseen complications may occur at any time. A failure to follow proper protocols and accepted standard of care however, may lead to severe injury, brain damage or even death. Since 1990, the Chicago birth injury lawyers at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have been helping those families affected by medical malpractice to ease their burdens. Millions have been collected on their behalf. Call us 24 hours a day for helpful free information at (800) 996-4824.

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