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Infant nerve damage during labor and delivery

During labor and delivery at a Washington hospital, it is not unusual for an infant to sustain nerve damage. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that the nervous system controls how a person’s body communicates with itself and with the world around it. Literally billions of cells make up this system that regulates the involuntary physical processes through the functions of the lungs, heart and other organs, as well as the voluntary actions such as movement of the muscles.

According to the Merck Manual, nerve injuries that happen either before or during delivery typically cause weakness in the muscle that the damaged nerves should control. For example, if the affected nerves are in the infant’s face, then when he or she cries, the muscles on one side of the face may not respond, causing a lopsided look. This type of injury can occur naturally because the baby was not positioned correctly in the uterus before labor began, or because that nerve pressed too hard against the mother’s pelvis as the baby was delivered. The use of forceps may also cause a facial nerve injury.

Many other groups of nerves may be stretched or torn during labor and delivery. These include the nerves known as the brachial plexus, which go from the neck to each shoulder, and then to the arms. A baby with a brachial plexus injury may have a weak or paralyzed arm and hand. An injury to the phrenic nerve causes damage to the diaphragm on the side that is affected, and may cause trouble breathing.

Spinal cord damage is much less common, and may be much more serious. While other nerve damage may resolve itself, or in rare cases may need surgery for correction, spinal damage is usually not reversible and can be fatal.