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Spinal Cord Injury at Birth


If your child shows symptoms such as weakness or paralysis soon after birth, they may have suffered a spinal cord injury during delivery. While spinal cord injuries can be managed through surgery and medication, your child will require ongoing medical care and therapy to gain optimal function, and may need personal support throughout their life.

Noted Philadelphia birth injury lawyer Heidi G. Villari explains what a birth spinal cord injury is, what causes them, how spinal cord injuries are diagnosed in infants, and how you can recover compensation for medical malpractice resulting in a spinal cord injury.

If your child suffered a spinal cord injury during delivery, call The Villari Firm for help. We have handled both sides of medical malpractice lawsuits and know how to fight back when insurance companies and hospitals fight you to protect the reputation of their medical professionals and their bottom line. Put our experience and our team of experts to work for you and your baby.

What a Birth Spinal Cord Injury Is

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves the length of the spine which transmit commands from the brain to the rest of the body. Damages to these nerves impair that connection.

Most birth spinal cord injuries happen to the baby’s neck and are called cervical spine injuries. The most severe cases of spinal cord injury during delivery can result in death or loss of function of all four limbs, called quadriplegia. Less severe cases of spinal cord injury during delivery can result in impaired control over legs or one limb.

Complete vs Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

When the spinal cord is severed or completely compressed, that is called a complete spinal cord injury. Most spinal cord injuries at birth are incomplete spinal cord injuries, when there is some damage to the spinal cord but the infant retains sensation and ability to move.

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries During Delivery

Most spinal cord injuries in newborns are caused by medical malpractice during delivery, especially if there are complications and the medical team attempts to speed up delivery. Spinal cord injuries occur during delivery in the following circumstances, among others:

  • Pulling or twisting the baby’s head
  • Use of forceps
  • Vacuum-assisted delivery
  • Failure to diagnose spina bifida prior to delivery
  • The baby is in breech position
  • The baby weighs more than eight pounds
  • The baby’s head is bent backwards in the womb

Signs & Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries

In most cases, the parents can tell immediately their baby has had a birth injury, although some cases take a few days to manifest. A baby who suffered a spinal cord injury at birth may show any of the following signs:

  • No muscle function in some or all limbs
  • Seems floppy when picked up
  • Shows lack of reflexes
  • Has breathing problems
  • Suffers spasms
  • No bowel and bladder control

Your doctor should test your baby for cerebral palsy if they are floppy, stiff or spasming to avoid delayed diagnosis.

Diagnosing Spinal Cord Injuries in Unborn Children

A routine prenatal blood test shows whether the baby has spina bifida. Spina bifida is a condition that causes gaps between the spinal vertebrae protecting the spinal cord. These gaps increase the likelihood that spinal cord injury can occur during birth.

Diagnosing Spinal Cord Injuries in Newborns

If the medical team suspects a newborn suffered a spinal cord injury during childbirth, they may employ any or all of the following diagnostic tools.


While the spinal cord does not appear in an X-ray image, an X-ray shows any fractured vertebrae, which may indicate spinal cord injury in that area.

CT Scans

Images from CT scans are much more detailed than X-rays and show even the smallest fracture in vertebrae. However, CT scans do not show nerve damage.


An image from an MRI shows nerve compression, tumors on the spine, and lesions in the spinal cord.

Spinal Cord Birth Injury Treatments

The most effective treatment for spinal cord injuries is prevention. A mother’s medical team must take every precaution in diagnosing spinal cord injuries in the womb, recognizing the risk factors for spinal cord injury during delivery, and using only the safest techniques when assisting vaginal birth.

If risk factors such as spina bifida, breech position, or the baby weighing more than eight pounds are present, the prudent course may be to perform a cesarean section.

If an infant does suffer a spinal cord injury at birth, doctors must act swiftly to reduce the risk of further or permanent damage. They may administer medication such as corticosteroids to decrease swelling at the site of the injury. In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to release pressure on compressed nerves. In the most serious cases of spinal cord injury during birth, the baby may need a feeding tube, a catheter, or a respirator.

There is no cure for spinal cord injuries, only rehabilitation and therapies to restore maximum function. The mildest cases may experience a full recovery. The more severe cases may experience lifelong lack of mobility or even the inability to live independently.

Can You Sue for a Spinal Cord Injury at Birth?

Yes. While learning your baby suffered a spinal cord injury at birth is heartbreaking, you should know as a practical matter the medical treatment and support they will require comes at a cost.

If you suspect your baby’s spinal cord injury occurred during delivery, you may be able to file a birth injury lawsuit and recover compensation to help with your baby’s care and continuing treatment.

Talk with an Experienced Birth Injury Lawyer

Not every mishap during delivery is grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. If your baby suffered a spinal cord injury at birth, call us to discuss your case. Our team of experts determine whether any medical professionals breached their duty of care to you and your baby, anad help you get the compensation you need and deserve.

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