Birth Injuries

Birth injuries can cause your child significant problems. Cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy are often linked directly to birth injuries. Birth injuries can cause irreversible injuries or even death. It is important to stay aware of the different types of birth injuries and how you can prevent them.

What are Birth Injuries?

Birth injuries are any form of harm that comes to your newborn during the delivery process. Birth injuries are an umbrella term for a huge host of conditions, including cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy. Any part of the body can be injured at birth, but there are some notable injuries that appear frequently.

Birth injuries can develop in seconds, and if not taken care of promptly, they can cause severe or permanent issues. Children with untreated birth injuries may develop serious mental or physical handicaps, and some die without proper medical care.

What makes birth injuries complicated is that many are not noticed until weeks or months after the baby’s birth. This can cause new parents additional stress and worry on top of caring for their baby.

If you believe your child suffered an injury at birth, you are not alone. Thousands of children born each year suffer from some type of birth injury.

While many birth injuries are not serious, some put your child at risk of dangerous complications.

Serious birth injuries include:

  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain damage
  • Brain swelling
  • Facial nerve injury
  • Stretching or tearing of limb/trunk nerves
  • Skull fractures

It is important that you stay informed on how these injuries develop, what you can do to prevent them and the treatment options available to help you.

Causes of Birth Injuries

There is not one specific reason a child may suffer from a birth injury. Because there are many types of birth injuries, a number of factors can cause different conditions to develop. Birth injuries may be very noticeable, such as bleeding or bruising of the face due to a forced extraction. On the other hand, they may not be noticed until months or years after the birth.

Generally speaking, there are factors that will determine if a child may suffer an injury at birth. These factors include the health of the mother, the health care team she sees through her pregnancy and delivery and the health of the fetus.

  • The mother’s health directly relates to the health of the baby. Infections and genetic issues can be passed from the mother to the child, often in more severe forms. For example, a mother who gets the Zika virus may only have mild symptoms, but her child could develop permanent physical and mental disabilities. Additionally, the mother’s immune system could develop antibodies and attack the baby if their blood types do not match up.
  • The health of the fetus can be the most difficult factor to manage because many issues can quickly develop complications if they are not caught early on. The positioning of the baby or an unnoticed heart condition may not affect them while still in the womb, but could seriously complicate their birth. Issues can develop based on genetic factors, other illnesses or physical harm to the baby.
  • The mother’s health care team must keep the health of the mother and child as strong as possible before birth. Doctors and nurses should work with the prospective mother to catch and treat issues early on. If the mother’s health care team does not provide proper care before, during and after a birth—from providing the wrong medicine to causing physical harm during delivery—they could be directly responsible for a child’s birth injury. The health care team must use their treatment strategies and birth extraction tools wisely.

The bottom line is that many birth injuries are caused by factors that can be treated or prevented with proper care early on. When, how and why your child develops a birth injury is related to the seriousness of these issues and how soon they are addressed.

Types of Birth Injuries

It can be hard to know what issues are commonly considered birth injuries because they come in many different forms. Birth injuries include damage to the head, brain, limbs or body that happened before, during or directly after a delivery. By understanding different birth injuries, you can be aware of how these issues affected or could affect your baby.

Brain Damage

Head injuries to newborn or unborn children can cause your child to develop brain damage. Brain damage can either come from physical trauma (due to blunt force, vacuum extraction or pulling on their head) or from other complications (asphyxia, umbilical cord choking or an infection that attacks the brain).

Brain damage in newborns presents many issues because it affects the body’s most complex organ. Worse yet, brain damage is often permanent, meaning your child may never recover from their injury. Children with brain damage may have a physical and/or mental impairment that will require specialized medical attention for the rest of their lives.

Infant Hematoma

Hematoma is a term for bleeding that collects outside of blood vessels. In infants, a hematoma that occurs near the brain or skull may cause extreme issues. The damage that leads to hematomas may form at any point before or during the child’s birth due to excessive force.

Hematomas are typically treated by surgery. However, if not caught early on, they can cause your child to develop permanent brain damage as the pool of blood puts pressure on their brain. Common warning signs of a hematoma in infants include bulges or depressions in the baby’s head, feeding issues and seizures.

Intrauterine Fetal Demise

Intrauterine fetal demise is the medical term for a stillbirth. Intrauterine fetal demise occurs when the fetus dies before it has been born. This can be extremely shocking and saddening for prospective parents.

Intrauterine fetal demise can be caused by a number of different issues, including an infection or injury in the mother. Complications within the womb, such as issues with the umbilical cord, may also cause intrauterine fetal demise. Tests from a doctor, such as ultrasounds, can help you monitor your baby’s health to catch issues early on or confirm the death of the fetus if it is too late.

Newborn Jaundice

Newborn jaundice occurs when bilirubin builds up in the body. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced as waste by red blood cells. Newborn jaundice typically sets in a few days after birth, but it goes away after a week or two. No treatment is required, although some phototherapy boxes can speed it up.

While newborn jaundice usually clears up on its own, in some cases the pigment can build up into large amounts. Too much bilirubin in the body can be dangerous to the baby’s health—especially their brain.


Kernicterus is a condition that occurs in newborn babies with severe jaundice. When high levels of bilirubin infest the body, the pigment can become stuck in a baby’s brain and cause permanent damage.

Kernicterus comes in three stages. In the early stage, babies appear extremely jaundiced and may be very tired. In the mid-stage, babies may experience seizures, and their cries may be very sharp. Babies with late-stage kernicterus may suffer permanent hearing loss, mental issues, and movement disorders.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Injuries to the spinal cord are very dangerous. This is because the spine is very sensitive and serves as the central controller for the rest of the body’s nervous system. Damage to the spine can prevent your child from using one or more of their limbs. What makes spinal cord injuries even more complicated is that their symptoms may mimic those of cerebral palsy.

Spinal cord injuries are separated into two types. An incomplete spinal cord injury means you may have some control or feeling below the injured area. A complete spinal cord injury indicates no control or feeling.

Though spinal cord injuries do not impose the mental health complications that brain injuries do, they still can cause your child permanent issues in controlling their body.

Vacuum Extraction Complications

Vacuum extractors are suction-based instruments that may help deliver a baby during a difficult labor. These extractors use either metal or soft cups that attach to the baby’s head. Doctors can then use the vacuum to pull the baby out of the mother’s womb.

Vacuum extractors are normally used during extremely long or complicated labors when a mother is drained of her energy. Unfortunately, if a doctor uses a vacuum extractor carelessly, the baby can be seriously injured.

Vacuum extraction frequently causes mild trauma to the scalp during normal use. Vacuum extractors can also cause more serious issues like skull fractures bleeding inside the brain. If your child’s shoulder is stuck, the force of vacuum extractors may cause your child to develop shoulder dystocia.

Birth Injuries Caused by Medical Negligence

If your child has been diagnosed with a birth injury or a similar condition, you may wonder if their issues could have been avoided. Sadly, like Erb’s palsy and cerebral palsy, many birth injuries come on randomly and without warning. While you may not have been able to do anything to prevent the injury, it is possible your health care team could have.

Medical negligence from doctors or nurses includes any form of incorrect care or mistake that violates basic standards of care. While not all mistakes are medical negligence, the issue is worth exploring to determine if your health care team could have prevented your child’s injuries.

Common examples of medical negligence include using too much force to deliver a child, failing to catch a serious illness in the mother or fetus or providing the wrong medication at any point during pregnancy. There are also many other forms of medical negligence that you may not be aware of.

While medical negligence is not common, it can kill your baby or prevent them from living a normal life.

How to Take Action

If you believe your child’s injuries could have been prevented, you can explore your legal options by speaking to a professional birth injury law firm. The staff can help you understand your options and the next steps to take. Your child may be entitled to funds if medical negligence caused their birth injury.

By learning about your legal options, you can understand how a birth injury lawsuit can help treat and manage your child’s birth injury.

Author:Birth Injury Justice Center
Birth Injury Justice Center

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

Last modified: June 21, 2019

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Birth injuries are instances of physical harm during childbirth directly caused by medical errors. There are many types of birth injuries, ranging from mild to severe. Birth injuries—may cause irreversible damage. Birth injuries are instances of physical harm during childbirth directly caused by medical errors.

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