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Facial nerve palsy, a rare but serious birth injury

Although the vast majority of births in the country, including those in Maryland, occur with few or no problems, sometimes babies are injured during delivery. Sometimes the injuries are minor and easily repaired or heal on their own. But occasionally, birth trauma results in permanent and sometimes disabling injuries. One such injury is known as facial nerve palsy, and a baby may be left without normal facial muscle functioning.

Sometimes a difficult delivery requires the use of forceps, which can lead to facial nerve palsy. Other factors that can also lead to facial nerve palsy include the size of the infant, the use of an epidural anesthetic, the use of medications to force stronger labor contractions and lengthy labors.

In most cases, the nerves in the lower part of the face, especially around the mouth, are affected. An infant's eyelid may also be affected and be unable to close. In the worst cases, an infant may not be able to move one entire side of his or her face.

Certain tests are used to diagnose the condition, including a nerve conduction study. This test will indicate the main area of nerve damage. In most cases, doctors will wait to see if the paralysis goes away on its own. If the paralysis is permanent, however, an infant may need specialized therapy. Sometimes the paralysis fades within a few months.

In many cases of facial nerve palsy, parents may discover that the birth injury was the result of negligence on the part of the doctor or the hospital or nursing staff. In such cases, parents may be able to seek compensation for their child's injury. Filing a birth injury claim is often complicated, however, so parents are often advised to retain an attorney who can explain the legal options available and the best way to proceed.

Source: nlm.nih.gov, "Facial nerve palsy due to birth trauma," May 20, 2014

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