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Spinal Cord Injury at Birth

Spinal Cord Injury at Birth

A spinal cord injury at birth can have devastating consequences for an infant and their family. This injury disrupts the connection of nerves between the brain and the body. This birth injury is rare and affects up to 1 in 8,000 live births. Spinal cord injuries at birth are sometimes caused by excessive pulling, rotating, or overextending the baby’s neck during delivery. Other times, damage to the spinal cord is not detected before birth, and the delivery process results in a spinal cord injury.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury at Birth

Most spinal cord injuries occur in the neck area, which is called a cervical injury. Typically, the higher the damage occurs along the spinal cord, the more damage can be anticipated. Serious spinal cord injuries can eliminate the child’s ability to sense and move their body. A paraplegic loses function to the lower half of the body, whereas a quadriplegic loses feeling from the chest down.  Damage to the very top of the spinal cord can be lethal.



A complete spinal cord injury occurs when the spinal cord is fully cut or compacted. This results in the loss of all movement and sensation below the damaged area. On the other hand, an incomplete spinal cord injuries occurs when the spinal cord is damaged but can still send nerve signals below the site of the injury. Children with incomplete spinal cord injuries can keep some movement and sensation, and some may even have a full recovery.



During a normal birth, the vertebrae and their surrounding muscles and ligaments protect the spinal cord. However, a traumatic labor and delivery can place too much stress on the spinal cord and damage it. For example, if the infant’s head is overextended, a spinal cord injury with permanent injury can result.

Signs of a Spinal Cord Injury in a newborn

The signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury can vary based on where the damage occurs, and the severity of the injury. Some signs include:


  • Weakness
  • Lack of movement
  • Breathing problems
  • Bladder and bowel issues
  • Spasms and abnormal reflexes
  • Loss of touch sensation

Causes of Spinal Cord Injury at Birth

Unfortunately, many spinal cord injuries that occur during birth are the result of doctor mistakes. A doctor who pulls or twists a baby improperly during delivery can cause lasting damage of the spinal cord. Additionally, using tools such as vacuums and forceps incorrectly can cause spinal cord damage.

Sometimes, a doctor may fail to diagnose a congenital condition, such as spina bifida, during pregnancy. If spina bifida is not diagnosed while the baby is in utero, a regularly delivery could cause damage to the infant.

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How is a Spinal Cord Injury Diagnosed?

A child who has a congenital condition affecting their spinal cord, such as spina bifida, is often able to be diagnosed before birth. It is important that a doctor performs routine blood tests during pregnancy to diagnose this condition so that delivery can be planned to prevent further damage to the spinal cord.


Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, CT scans and MRI’s can help a doctor determine if a spinal cord injury occurred at birth.

How is a Spinal Cord Injury Treated?

A spinal cord injury should receive medical attention right away. Doctors can admit medicine, such as corticosteroids, to decrease swelling. Surgery may be needed to fully assess the extent of the damage, or to release pressure on the damaged nerves. Treatment may also include:


  • Treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • Mechanical ventilator for breathing support
  • Urinary catheter to help drain urine into a collection bag
  • Feeding tube for nutritional support

As the child develops, they will likely need a team of medical professionals and therapists to maximize their independence and quality. The disabled child will need help to maximize their independence at home and in the community.

Filing a Lawsuit for a Spinal Cord Injury at Birth

A birth injury attorney can seek a claim if the doctor made an error that caused your child’s spinal cord injury at birth. Ongoing medical treatment and personal care are costly and can be a financial stressor for the family. A birth injury lawsuit can help pay for the medical treatment and care your child needs due to a spinal cord injury caused by malpractice. Contact our experienced birth injury lawyers today to find out about your legal options.

In 2006, it was estimated that over 157,000 birth injuries could have been avoided to both mother and infant.

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