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September is Baby Safety Month: What Every Parent Should Know

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While keeping children safe is a year-round priority for parents, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) has aptly designated the ninth month of the year as National Baby Safety Month. This makes September an ideal time to make sure your home is baby-proof and your car seats are appropriately sized and correctly installed.

In addition, while every parent wants to bring home a healthy baby, this is not always the case. And, when a birth injury is caused by negligence on the part of a doctor or other medical provider, the parents’ heartbreak is worse.

Here is an overview of birth injuries and how parents can protect their rights if a child is harmed by a negligent physician, followed by a compilation of tips for keeping little ones safe at home and on the road.

How Do Birth Injuries Happen?

Birth injuries happen for a variety of reasons and may result from something that transpires during pregnancy, labor or delivery. In many cases there is no discernible reason why some babies are born with birth injuries or birth defects. However, sometimes a birth injury occurs because a doctor made a mistake. In those instances, the parents might have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The following are examples of medical mistakes that may result in a birth injury:

  • Applying excessive force when using forceps or other delivery assistance tools
  • Insufficient monitoring of mother and fetus during labor
  • Failing to perform a Cesarean section (C-section) in time to prevent injury or oxygen deprivation
  • Administering the wrong anesthetic drug or dosage
  • Failing to monitor a patient’s medications for drug interactions or potential harm to the fetus
  • Failing to check for infections and viruses that are known to cause birth defects
  • Failing to treat an expectant mother with warning signs such as age or obesity as high risk
  • Failing to provide appropriate prenatal care for diabetic patients or check for gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy)

Common Birth Injuries

Many birth injuries occur because an infant is deprived of oxygen during labor and/or delivery. Others are caused by the incorrect use of forceps or other tools.

The following birth injuries occur most frequently:

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is one of the most common birth injuries, usually caused by oxygen deprivation during labor or delivery. The name is actually an umbrella term for a group of disorders relating to movement, balance and muscle tone, and, in some cases, cognitive impairment.

In addition, Cerebral Palsy does not affect everyone in the same way. Some children are mildly affected, while others require lifelong care due to severe physical and cognitive disabilities.

Other Types of Brain Damage

Newborns can also be born with other types of brain damage. However, like Cerebral Palsy, this damage usually occurs when a newborn is deprived of oxygen. Brain damage can also occur when a doctor uses forceps or suction incorrectly during delivery.

Erb’s Palsy

Also called shoulder dystocia, this condition involves damage to the delicate part of a newborn’s shoulder, or brachial plexus. It typically occurs when a doctor uses forceps improperly or otherwise applies excessive force during delivery.

Facial nerve damage

Facial nerve damage, also referred to as palsy, refers to a condition where an infant to lose control of voluntary muscle movement in the facial (7th cranial) nerve. This is usually caused when a physician uses forceps or other tools incorrectly or otherwise puts unnecessary pressure on a newborn’s face immediately before or during birth.

Fractures

A newborn’s clavicle or collarbone may fracture during labor and/or delivery if the doctor has difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder. These fractures also occur during breech deliveries, when the baby is turned “upside down” in the birth canal.

In addition, a baby’s skull may fracture if a physician uses too much force or pressure during delivery.

Cephalohematoma

This is a type of cerebral hemorrhage that is most often caused by the incorrect use of delivery assistance tools such as forceps.

What is the Difference Between a Birth Injury and a Birth Defect?

Birth defects are structural or functional abnormalities that usually occur while a baby is in the womb. These anomalies can result in physical disabilities, cognitive and developmental impairment and other health problems.

In contrast, birth injuries typically result when something goes wrong during labor and delivery. Examples are oxygen deprivation, improper fetal monitoring or incorrect use of forceps or other equipment.

Both birth defects and birth injuries can be caused by negligence. 

Baby-Proofing Starts from the Ground Up

The best way to baby-proof is to start on your hands and knees! Yes, it sounds silly; however, assessing your home from a baby’s perspective is the best way to spot potential hazards you may otherwise miss.   

Start with the basics:

  • Cover exposed electrical sockets
  • Secure loose or hanging cords from blinds, lamps and appliances
  • Remove free-standing floor lamps, planters or other items that young children can tip over
  • Securely fasten bookcases, dressers and display cabinets to the wall
  • Mount or secure free-standing TVs
  • Cover sharp edges with corner protectors
  • Install child-proof gates on stairways and doorways
  • Make liberal use of cabinet and drawer locks throughout the house

Creating a Safe Sleep Environment

Babies spend a lot of time sleeping during the first year, which allows them to grow and provides some needed respite for parents and caregivers. However, approximately 3,500 infants die each year from sleep-related causes such as suffocation, entrapment, strangulation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). What’s more, many of these tragic deaths are preventable if proper sleep safety protocols are followed.

Here are some tips for creating a safe sleep environment:

  • Lay babies down on their backs during the first year unless otherwise instructed by a physician
  • Place cribs a safe distance away from windows or furniture, away from strings or cords
  • Remove any suffocation hazards from the crib, including thick blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals
  • Use a firm mattress that fits snugly against the sides of the crib
  • Do not use cribs more than 10 years old unless the crib meets 2011 safety standards established by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Make sure the crib is properly assembled according to the manufacturer’s instructions

Bath Time Safety

Babies can drown in one inch of water, and it only takes seconds for a tragedy to occur.

Following these simple suggestions can make bath time safe and enjoyable for parents and babies:

  • Set the hot water heater no higher than 120° F
  • After filling the tub, use your wrist to check the water temperature
  • Assemble bathing supplies before bringing the baby into the bathroom
  • NEVER leave a baby or young child alone in the bath tub for any reason
  • Install non-slip strips on the bottom of the tub or use a bath mat
  • Place a cushioned cover over the water faucet
  • Install toilet lid locks if there are toddlers in the home and keep the lids closed when not in use
  • Install cabinet locks on bathroom cupboards and drawers
  • Lock medicine cabinets when children are able to reach them

Use the Right Car Seat for a Safer Ride  

Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 13. The good news is that children who ride in car seats are 50% more likely to survive a crash.  Therefore, whether you are embarking on a family road trip or driving to the local dairy for freshly churned ice cream, using the appropriate car seats and safety belts will go a long way toward keeping your children safe.

Here are the basic car seat rules established under Michigan law:

  • Children under the age of 8 or less than 57 in. (4 ft. 9 in.) tall must ride in a car seat or booster seat.
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