Glossary of Terms


Abruptio Placentae
The formal medical term for placental abruption. Abruptio placentae symptoms include pain and bleeding. It can be fatal if not properly treated.

To do something, or the process of doing something.

An alternative treatment method where thin needles are inserted into the body at precise locations. Is frequently used to treat pain and stress, and promote overall wellness.

Adrenal Glands
Glands that produce hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Alanine transaminase is an enzyme found in the liver. It helps convert protein into energy. Increased ALT levels may indicate liver damage.

The body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to provide adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs.

Controlled and temporary loss of consciousness or sensation for medical purposes, such as surgery or other medical procedure.

A complete loss of oxygen supply.

Controls tremors, muscle spasms and stiffness.

Suppresses brain stimulation to treat seizures and mood disorders.

Controls anxiety and depression.

Reduces spasticity, stiffness and tremors.

Treats herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Arachnoid Membrane
The middle membrane that surrounds the brain. It is located between the dura mater and the pia mater.

A muscular-walled tube that transports oxygenated blood throughout the body.

A lack of oxygen or an excess of carbon dioxide in the body.

Breathing in a foreign object or substance.

Assistive Technology
Types of technology (i.e. software, mobile devices, specialized educational tools, etc.) that help treat symptoms associated with many disabilities.

Aspartate transaminase is an enzyme that metabolizes amino acids. AST levels are generally low in a healthy individual. Increased levels may indicate liver damage or disease.

Abnormal and uncoordinated movements. A child with ataxic cerebral palsy may experience a lack of balance, awkward walking habits and staggering.

Uncontrolled movements. A child with athetoid cerebral palsy may exhibit erratic movements.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of cognitive conditions that affect children. Autism affects behavior, socialization, communication, speech and education.

Compensation that is ordered by a judge during a trial.


Elevated bilirubin causes jaundice. It can lead to liver damage or disease if not treated quickly.

Treats fragile or fractured bones and bone loss.

Brachial Plexus
The network of nerves in the shoulder that carries sensory and movement signals from the spinal cord to the arms and hands.

Breech Position
The infant is positioned with their feet or buttocks closest to the birth canal.

Breech Presentation
The infant’s legs or buttocks are positioned to enter the birth canal first.

Brow Presentation
The infant enters the birth canal face first, but without the neck extended.


A Cesarean section is surgical delivery of the infant via an incision in the mother’s abdomen.

Caput Succedaneum
Swelling of the scalp of a newborn, usually due to pressure on the scalp during delivery.

Cephalic Position
The infant’s head is located in the lower part of the mother’s abdomen in preparation for delivery.

Collection of blood between an infant’s scalp and the skull.

Cephalopelvic Disproportion
The size of the infant’s head and the mother’s pelvis are mismatched. The infant’s head is too large, or the mother’s pelvis is too small, to allow the infant to fit through the birth canal.

Refers to the brain

Cerebral Palsy
A disorder affecting the brain and motor function.

Cervical Dystonia
A neurological medical condition that causes an infant’s neck muscles to snap back and contract involuntarily.

An infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox causes an itchy rash that includes fluid-filled blisters. It is highly contagious.

Movements that are involuntary and are repetitive or jerky in nature.

Fast, unpredictable movements. A child with choreoathetoid cerebral palsy may have muscle contractions, fidgeting and unpredictable movement of the face and limbs.

Chromosomal Defects
Abnormalities in the development of chromosomes, such as duplication or deletion of chromosomes, or having an extra chromosome.

The threadlike structure in the nucleus of most living cells. Chromosomes carry genetic information by way of genes.

Blood cannot coagulate, or clot, appropriately, which can cause spontaneous and excessive bleeding.

Compound Presentation
More than one body part enters the birth canal at the same time, such as the head and an arm.

Contingency Fee
An arrangement between an attorney and client where the lawyer agrees to a fixed percentage of the recovery amount if the case is won. This percentage is only payable if there is a verdict or settlement in favor of the client.

The transparent part of the eye that covers the pupil, iris and fluid-filled inside portion of the eye. The cornea refracts and bends light.

Generally administered during pregnancy to help develop the infant’s organs and tissue.

Craniosacral Therapy
A type of massage and pressure therapy that relieves tension and promotes growth and development of an infant’s skull.

Cell signalling molecules that help cell-to-cell communication and immune system response in the body. They also stimulate cell movement toward infection, inflammation or trauma.


More water leaves the body than enters it.

Descemet’s Membrane
A base membrane that covers the cornea.

Diplegic cerebral palsy, or diplegia, causes muscles in the limbs to be stiff and contracted. A child with diplegic cerebral palsy may have trouble crawling or walking. They may have difficulty with balance and coordination and may walk with their knees flexed.

Swelling of the abdomen.

Dura Mater
A thick membrane or connective tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Involuntary movements that may be repetitive, twisting, slow, and irregular. A child with dyskinetic cerebral palsy may experience frustration because their muscles do not do what they want them to.

Involuntary contraction of muscles making movement difficult and frustrating.


Ectopic Pregnancy
The egg is fertilized but implants outside of the uterus, generally in the fallopian tubes, on the cervix or on an ovary.

Encephalopathy refers to disease or damage to the brain. There are numerous causes for encephalopathy meaning diagnosis and treatment will vary.

Energy-Channeling Therapy
Also called Reiki, an alternative treatment method that uses universal energy to relax the body. Also effective at treating pain and managing stress.

Regional anesthesia that creates numbness from the belly button down the legs. This blocks pain while allowing the patient to be awake and alert during a procedure, such as a C-section.

Epidural Hematoma
When blood accumulates between the child’s skull and the dura mater (the thick membrane that covers the brain)

Erb’s Palsy
Injury to the main nerves in the upper arm that disrupts mobility.

Escherichia coli (E. coli)
A type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of most animals and people. Pathogenic strains can cause illness in humans, such as diarrhea. These are transmitted through food or water that contains the bacteria.

The brain injury is outside of the usual tract, such as in the basal ganglia, cerebellum or thalamus.


Face Presentation
The infant enters the birth canal face first, meaning the back of the infant’s head touches their back and their face is extended forward.

Fetal Presentation
The position of an infant in the womb before he or she enters the birth canal.

Folic Acid
A B vitamin that is important during pregnancy. Folic Acid aids development of the fetal brain and spine.


The way a person walks.

Gestational Diabetes
Diabetes that develops during pregnancy and generally resolves after delivery.

Group B Strep
Bacteria that naturally comes and goes in the human body. Can invade the body and cause serious illness and infections in newborns.


HELLP Syndrome
A complication of pregnancy that causes elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. Can lead to liver rupture or stroke.

A collection of blood outside of a blood vessel, most often due to an injury to the wall of the blood vessel.

Inability to move on only one side of the body.

Paralysis on one side of the body.

Bleeding from a ruptured or injured blood vessel.

Hemorrhagic Shock
The body shuts down due to excessive blood loss from an internal injury.

Hepatitis B Virus
A life-threatening infection of the liver. Spread through contact with bodily fluids of someone who has the virus. Can cause chronic infections, liver cancer and death.

Herpes Simplex Virus
A viral infection that is extremely common in adults. There are two types of HSV – oral and genital. Genital HSV can be passed to an infant during birth.

Horner’s Syndrome
A medical condition where the nerves connecting the brain to the eyes and face are damaged.

A build up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain.

Treatment method using hot or cold water to stimulate various parts of the body.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
A treatment method involving exposure to 100% pure oxygen at a high pressure.

Hypertonic muscles are tight or rigid, and movements are spastic and poorly controlled.

Low muscle tone and limbs that seem “floppy”.

A lack of adequate oxygen supply.

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
A type of newborn brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation and restricted blood flow to the brain.


The process of immobilizing a part of the body that is injured, such as placing a patient’s arm in a cast or sling.

Within the skull.

Intracranial Hemorrhage
Bleeding in the parts of the brain that are responsible for motor development and skills development.

Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
A medical diagnosis when an infant does not grow in the womb as would be expected for his or her gestational age.

Low blood flow to vital organs.


A condition caused by high levels of bilirubin in an infant’s blood. This can lead to brain damage.


A deep cut or tear in the skin.

A surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat a variety of abdominal injuries or conditions.

Life Expectancy
The number of years that an individual can expect to live. This can be very different depending on factors like health, injuries and lifestyle. For example, you may ask “what is the lifespan for someone with cerebral palsy?”

Limb Presentation
An arm or leg emerges first through the birth canal.

Liver Function Studies
Tests that diagnose and monitor liver diseases or disorders.


Large infant head circumference.

A newborn who is larger than average, generally weighing more than 8 lbs, 13 ounces.

Manipulation of the body’s soft tissues.

An infant’s first bowel movement (poop). It is a thick, sticky and dark green substance composed of fat, cells, proteins and intestinal secretions.

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
A medical condition that occurs when an infant breathes in meconium and amniotic fluid.

Inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Small infant head circumference.

The death of an infant in the womb prior to 28 weeks gestation. May also be called spontaneous abortion.

Molar Pregnancy
A molar pregnancy occurs when a tumor develops in the uterus instead of a fetus. The woman may experience symptoms of pregnancy, but there is no embryo.

Moro Reflex
A reflex causing the infant to react abruptly when startled. The infant’s head shifts abruptly and arms and legs extend quickly. Then the infant brings arms together and may cry loudly.

A term for multiple fetuses during one pregnancy, such as twins or triplets.


Failure to take proper care, or use reasonable care, when doing something, causing injury to someone else.

A surgical procedure that involves freeing up nerves and scar tissue that is around them.

A specialized intensive care unit dedicated to newborn babies. Healthcare providers in the NICU are specially trained to work with newborns of all ages, sizes, and medical needs.

Nuchal Cord
The medical term for the umbilical cord wrapping completely around the infant’s neck.


Being overweight to the point of risking one’s health.

Occipitoposterior Position
The infant enters the birth canal head first, but the back of the head is turned toward the mother’s back with the neck rotated.

Occupational Therapy
Therapy focused on improving cognitive skills, fine and gross motor function, and behavioral skills.

Low level of amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac (womb).

A failure to do something that you have a legal or moral obligation to do.


Pain Medication
Prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers.

An unhealthy pale appearance to the skin.

Palmar Grasp Reflex
If an infant’s palm or foot are stroked, he or she will curl fingers and toes to grasp the object.

Refers to paralysis

A dense layer of vascular connective tissue that envelops bones.

Periventricular Leukomalacia
A brain injury affecting premature infants. The injury involves death of small areas of the brain tissue around the ventricles. This results in “holes” in the white matter of the brain.

Periventricular Leukomalacia
A type of brain damage that causes white matter cells to decay or die.

Tiny round spots that appear on the skin due to bleeding. Spots may be red, brown, or purple, and often appear in clusters.

Physical Therapy
Therapy focused on improving strength, flexibility and muscle function.

Pia Mater
The thin, fibrous membrane that is the innermost layer of the meninges.

Placental Insufficiency
A small or unhealthy placenta. The placenta does not function properly and does not pass blood, oxygen and nutrients to the fetus as expected.

A complication of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and organ damage, particularly the liver and kidneys.


Tissue that lines the back of the inside of the eye. The retina is important for visual recognition and sendinging signals from the eye to the brain.

Rh Incompatibility
A mother and infant have incompatible Rh factor proteins. For example, the mother is Rh-negative and the infant is Rh-positive.

Rho (D) Immune Globulin
All humans have either Rh-negative or Rh-positive blood. If a pregnant woman is Rh-negative but the baby is Rh-positive, it can affect the mother’s blood. Rho (D) immune globulin is administered to pregnant women to help prevent their bodies from forming antibodies that destroy red blood cells.

A contagious viral infection that causes a red rash.

Ruptured Placenta
A ruptured placenta causes heavy bleeding and pain for the mother. It can restrict oxygen and blood flow to the baby, potentially causing serious injuries.


An uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain often indicating brain damage or dysfunction.

An agreement between the plaintiff and defendant where the dispute is resolved for an agreed upon amount of compensation. In exchange, the case will be dropped and no lawsuit filed.

Shoulder Dystocia
What is shoulder dystocia? It is a complication of labor and delivery that happens when one or both of the baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pelvis.

Shoulder Presentation
The shoulder or trunk of the infant enters the birth canal first.

Speech Pathology
A type of therapy that helps the patient speak correctly and feed themselves correctly. Therapy is done by a speech pathologist, who is an expert in communication.

Spina Bifida
A birth defect occurring when the spinal cord and spine do not form properly during pregnancy. The neural tube does not close all the way, leaving the spinal cord and nerves vulnerable to damage or completely exposed.

Spinal Galant Reflex
A reflex causing the infant to curve the hip outward if the lower back is stroked.

Statute of Limitations
A period of time after an injury when a victim can file a lawsuit.

The birth of an infant who died in the womb after 28 weeks gestation.

Occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted or stopped, which prevents the brain from getting enough oxygen. The result is brain cell death in a matter of minutes.

Subconjunctival Hematoma
A subconjunctival hematoma or hemorrhage is a condition causing the small blood vessels beneath the eye to rupture. It causes a bright red spot on the white of the infant’s eye.

Subdural Hematoma
A collection of blood in the brain between the arachnoid mater and the dura mater. Generally caused by traumatic brain injury.

A bacterial infection that is generally spread via contact with the genitals of someone who is infected. Infants can be exposed to syphilis bacterium as they pass through the birth canal.


A heart rate of over 100 beats per minute.

Fast, shallow breathing.

Also called quadriplegia, refers to paralysis in both the upper and lower body. Most commonly caused by injury to the brain or spinal cord.

Therapeutic Electrical Stimulation
A treatment method that involves low-level electrical impulses that stimulate muscles in certain parts of the body.

Low levels of platelets in the blood.

Tonic Neck Reflex
May be asymmetrical or symmetrical. A reflex that causes the infant’s head to turn to one side with the same-side arm extended. The other arm is bent at the elbow.

Medications used to treat skin disorders. May include dressings, creams, salves, lotions or oils.

A disease caused by an infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. It is one of the world’s most common parasites, often found in cat feces and undercooked or raw meat.


Umbilical Cord Clamping
After birth, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord, generally between 25 seconds and five minutes after birth.

Umbilical Cord Compression
Cord compression near baby occurs when the umbilical cord is flattened due to pressure in the womb.

Umbilical Cord Knot
The umbilical cord becomes tangled up in itself forming a knot and restricting blood flow.

Umbilical Cord Prolapse
The umbilical cord drops through the mother’s cervix during labor or delivery.

Umbilical Cord Stricture
A narrowing of the umbilical cord that can restrict blood flow.

Urinary Tract Infection
An infection anywhere in the urinary tract (bladder, kidneys, etc.).


White Matter of the Brain
White matter is tissue in the brain that is composed of nerve fibers. White matter is covered by myelin, a type of fat, which helps protect the brain and speeds up signals so the brain can quickly send and receive messages.

meagan cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to FNHA and our websites, including Birth Injury Guide and