Birth Related Brain Injuries

James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. represents people who have suffered brain injuries because of the negligence of others. The owner and founder of the firm, James F. Humphreys, is a former chairman of the Board of  Directors of the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) and is general counsel to the West Virginia Brain Injury Association, Inc. (WVBIA).

Many brain injuries occur during birth.There are various ways in which delivery related brain injuries can occur, including oxygen deprivation, physical trauma, low glucose levels, and perinatal strokes.

1 Brain injuries can also occur during pregnancy while the baby is still in the womb. Such gestational injuries can occur because of many factors, such as maternal infections, infant jaundice, preeclampsia, maternal respiratory diseases, and maternal exposures to drugs, alcohol, and toxins. Excessive consumption of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy can result in a condition known as “fetal alcohol syndrome.” Regular prenatal visits allow your doctor to monitor the health of you and your baby and provide you with guidance concerning nutrition and activity.

Oxygen Deprivation

The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxygen deprivation because it requires large amounts of oxygen compared to other organs, and it doesn’t heal as well when injured. Even a few minutes without oxygen can cause serious and permanent injury.

Hypoxia, an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain, can result in mild to moderate brain damage. Anoxia, a total lack of oxygen, can result in severe brain damage or even death. There are many ways in which oxygen deprivation can occur during the birth process:

Twisting or compression of the umbilical cord. In some cases, the cord may actually be wrapped around the baby’s neck. Babies may also become stuck in the birth canal, where the cord is squeezed and the baby does not have room to breath on its own.

Early separation of the placenta from the uterus.

Cutting the umbilical cord too soon.

Airways which are blocked by mucus.

Physical Trauma

The baby’s skull is soft and flexible, making it easier for the baby to move through the birth canal.  Unfortunately, this also makes the baby’s brain more vulnerable to damage during the physical stress of labor. Physical trauma can result in a number of ways during delivery:

Repeated striking of the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvis during a long, hard delivery.

Improper use of birth assisting tools such as forceps and vacuum suction during labor.  Such tools are used in approximately 5% of deliveries to speed up the birth process, sometimes to avoid asphyxiation, but too much force or improper technique can squeeze the baby’s brain.  

Perinatal Strokes

We usually think of strokes happening to older people, but strokes can happen at any age, even when the baby is still in the womb. Strokes which occur during birth are known as perinatal strokes. There are several things which can trigger or predispose a baby to perinatal strokes:

Lack of oxygen

Heart defects

Blood disorders



Malformed blood vessels in the brain which can break and result in aneurysms

Maternal health problems such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), infections, drugs, alcohol, and diabetes

Low Glucose Levels

Low levels of blood sugar (glucose) usually occur during prolonged deliveries. The baby’s glucose levels should be routinely checked after birth.  



Some birth related brain injuries occur because of carelessness on the part of a doctor or other health care personnel. Medical malpractice cases are complicated and the assistance of experienced legal counsel is strongly recommended. If you or a loved one has been injured through the wrongful conduct of someone else, contact James F. Humphreys for a free initial consultation at 304-881-0652 (local) or 877-341-2595 (toll free). You may also contact us through our website,   

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