The natural forces of childbirth and labor put a lot of physical pressure on an infant. When doctors use forceps or other tools to assist with the birth, they can add even more physical strain. When medical professionals use too much physical pressure on an infant, it can lead to several birth injuries, including temporary or permanent paralysis of a facial nerve. Also called seventh cranial nerve palsy, facial nerve paralysis happens when a birthing team pulls so hard on a baby that a nerve in his or her face is damaged by the pressure or by a literal tear in the nerve.
Permanent facial paralysis can be difficult and frightening for the affected family, whose child starts life with an extra and often unnecessary disadvantage. Surgeries can be physically traumatic for a child, and therapy may take years. If treatment isn't completely successful, it can cause great social and emotional upheaval for a young child, whose peers aren't always mature enough to treat differences with kindness. This can have negative effects on the child's social development, schooling and other activities that help a child get a good start in life. And of course, the treatments can be extremely expensive, even if the family has medical insurance.
Doctors diagnose infant facial paralysis by watching the baby cry. Most commonly, the nerve damage is low on the baby's face, so the paralysis affects his or her mouth and cheek. While the baby cries, the mouth will pull down on the side of the face that's not affected, leaving the other side partially or totally relaxed. More rarely, the paralysis might affect both sides of the face, or might extend all the way from the baby's forehead to his or her chin.
Parents and medical professionals who suspect facial paralysis can look for:
- No movement at all on one side of the face
- A mouth that doesn't move the same way on both sides
- An eyelid that doesn't close on one side
- An asymmetrical appearance to the baby's face while it moves
Physical pressure on an infant is the direct cause of facial paralysis. However, there are several factors that might raise the chances that doctors will choose to use forceps or a large amount of physical pressure:
- A very large baby (fetal macrosomia), a small pelvis for the mother or diabetes
- A difficult labor, or a history of difficult labors
- Baby's shoulder caught behind mother's pubic bone (shoulder dystocia)
- Medication-induced labor or contractions
- Use of an epidural
In most cases, facial paralysis caused by birth trauma is temporary and will go away in a few weeks. At the hospital, doctors should perform tests to see whether it's a congenital defect or a result of trauma. If it was caused by trauma, doctors may decide to stimulate the nerve to help it recover.
However, if the nerve is torn or otherwise severely damaged, it can be permanent. Doctors might call this acute facial nerve paralysis or facial nerve palsy. Children with permanent facial nerve paralysis will likely need surgery to decompress the nerve, as well as physical therapy. If the baby can't close his or her eye on the affected side, doctors will have to take steps to keep the cornea from drying up, which can affect vision.
If you believe bad decisions by medical professionals caused your child's facial nerve palsy, you have the right to hold them responsible for the results with a birth injury lawsuit. Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP can help. We are an experienced New York birth injury law firm with extensive experience in medical malpractice and birth injury claims. We understand the legal and medical complexities of birth injuries because we've made them a priority. We're proud of our strong record of wins and large recoveries for seriously injured clients, including tens of millions for families affected by birth injuries. That's money that parents can use to pay for medical care; therapies; special schooling; and to provide financial support if someone can't work after an injury.
If your child or a child you care about has suffered facial nerve paralysis because of a medical mistake, call the NY facial paralysis lawyers at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP today at (212) 986-7353 for a free consultation.
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