Mechanically-Assisted Birth Injuries: A Closer Look

by | Dec 7, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

In many ways, car wrecks happen before drivers get behind the wheel. A drink or two at a bar could cause a serious crash later. In the same way, many serious birth injuries essentially happen long before the mother reaches the delivery room.

Shoulder dystocia (SD) is one of the most common prenatal health and safety issues. Basically, if the baby’s head and shoulders are too large, the baby cannot drift down the mother’s birth canal. If that happens, the umbilical cord continues dropping. As the cord wraps itself around the baby’s neck, the increased pressure and resulting hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) could cause cerebral palsy in as little as five minutes.

Since the clock is ticking in the delivery room, many doctors do what the rest of us do. They panic and, in their desperation, try dangerous things to safely deliver the baby. As outlined below, these interventions normally do more harm than good.

A Lexington personal injury attorney stands up for victims in these cases. Initially, an attorney cuts through the “some complications” line that many hospitals use, so families know what is wrong with their babies. Then, as the case progresses, an attorney stands up for these families in court.

Duty of Care

Patients are entirely dependent on doctors for information about their healthcare, and for the care itself. As a result, most doctors have a fiduciary duty toward most patients. They must set aside all other concerns, such as making money or preserving their reputations, and only do what is best for their patients.

That duty begins the moment a pregnant mother walks into her doctor’s office. Many mothers exhibit bright SD red flags. Maternal diabetes, maternal obesity, and a history of difficult deliveries spring immediately to mind.

Confidence is a very good trait in a doctor. Overconfidence is a very bad trait. There is a very thin line between the two. Some doctors view some red flags as only “borderline” risks which do not merit their full attention.

Additionally, today’s medical offices have many moving parts. Frequently, a patient care technician or nurse administers some diagnostic tests. These professionals might not be able to accurately interpret the results. Even if they are, important items often get lost in translation.

Money is usually the common denominator in these different circumstances. Many doctors are so booked up during the day that they have no time to carefully examine patient charts or consult with colleagues about difficult cases.

This same duty of care applies in the delivery room. A crash C-section is usually the best way to deal with a SD-cerebral palsy threat. Unfortunately, although the standard of care is clear, many doctors rely on unproven or dangerous birth assistance methods.

Mechanical Birth Aids

Medical science has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last four hundred years. Yet when the chips are down and the pressure is on, many doctors rely on some methods that have been around since the 1600s.


William Chamberlen, a French Huguenot surgeon, may have invented obstetrical forceps in the 1630s. These instruments were refined slightly a little over a hundred years later, and they have remained mostly unchanged since. Therefore, the pair of forceps in a doctor’s toolbox today are essentially the same ones doctors used in the 1750s.

Then as now, forceps resemble giant salad tongs. If the baby is lodged in the mother’s birth canal, and the baby’s head is visible, doctors grasp the baby’s head with the tongs and try to pull the baby out of the mother.

Newborns are incredibly delicate. Any excess pressure to the head could cause permanent skull malformation at best, and permanent brain damage at worst. Additionally, there are cases of doctors literally tearing babies in two in a desperate attempt to free them.

These efforts are hardly heroic. As mentioned, effective alternatives, like a crash C-section, are available. Some doctors simply don’t want to use them.

Vacuum Extractor

This device is a less barbaric mechanical birth aid, but the principle, and the danger, is pretty much the same. This “innovation” dates back to 1849, when James Young Simpson, who also encouraged doctors to use chloroform on mothers during delivery, unveiled his Air Tractor.

Doctors use a surgical vacuum to suck babies out of their mothers. The Air Tractor, and most subsequent models, had plastic caps on the end of the vacuum hose. Most modern vacuum extractors have metal caps. In either case, doctors attach babies’ heads to these metal caps.

Vacuum extractors have two key risks. First, there is the aforementioned excessive force. The force is usually even greater in these situations, because a vacuum cleaner is stronger than most doctors. Second, the metal cap is more secure than plastic, but it also carries a greater risk of permanent injury to the baby’s head.

Damages Available

Newborn head injuries are usually permanent. As a result, these families face a lifetime of unexpected medical bills. Compensation is available for these expenses. Compensation is also available for the family’s pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other noneconomic damages.

Additional punitive damages are usually available in these claims as well, mostly because the duty of care is so high and mechanical birth assistance devices are so risky. These additional damages punish the tortfeasor (negligent actor) and deter future misconduct.

Desperate doctors sometimes do reckless things which cause permanent injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.