Birth Injury Statistics

Approximately 7 out of every 1,000 children born in the United States will suffer a birth injury. A significant percentage of birth injuries are avoidable and occur because of medical negligence or physical trauma.

Per 1000 Births Occur in 7 per 1,000 Births

Benefits of Birth Injury Statistics

Cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy and brain damage are just a few examples of the types of birth injuries that an infant may suffer during birth. These injuries may occur because of environmental factors, genetic predisposition or medical malpractice.

Understanding birth injury statistics can help you learn if you or your child is at risk of a birth injury.

How Often Do Birth Injuries Occur?

Statistics have shown that about 7 birth injuries occur for every 1,000 children born in the United States. Birth injuries have a variety of different causes, and there are a range of factors that can lead to each problem. For instance, oxygen deprivation is one of the most common causes of brain injuries during birth.

Brain injuries can manifest as a condition such as cerebral palsy or as brain damage. The listed information below can help you better understand the causes, prevalence and incidence of birth injuries.

Delayed Birth

Delayed birth is also known as prolonged labor. Medical studies have shown that about 8% of all women giving birth are affected by prolonged labor. Prolonged labor is associated with maternal weight gain or high body mass index.

Prolonged labor is typically more difficult for mothers, but infants can struggle to leave the birth canal. This struggle can lead to oxygen deprivation or muscular or nerve damage in the baby.

Oxygen Deprivation

As stated previously, oxygen deprivation is one of the most common causes of brain injuries in newborn infants. Research from the University of Oxford found that approximately 2 out of every 1,000 newborn infants suffer from oxygen deprivation at birth.

Oxygen deprivation can prevent oxygen and nutrients from reaching the infant’s young and developing brain. This can lead to long-term brain damage and disability or other serious conditions, such as cerebral palsy.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can lead to a wide range of birth injuries. The use of forceps or vacuum extraction during delivery can cause significant damage to the head, neck and shoulders of infants. Brachial plexus is a nerve injury that can occur when the neck is injured during delivery. It is estimated to occur in about one to three of every 1,000 births.

Cerebral palsy is a serious neurological condition that occurs in 1.5 to 4 children per every 1,000 births. Physical trauma to the brain during delivery can lead to cerebral palsy. Head trauma during delivery can also cause hearing loss in infants.

Medications

Certain medications can cause birth injuries in newborns. Doctors are supposed to stay on top of which medications are safe for pregnant mothers, but sometimes mistakes or malpractice can occur. For example, anti-seizure medicines or acne medicines, such as isotretinoin, have been linked to congenital heart disease in newborns.

Monitoring Issues

When physicians fail to properly monitor expectant mothers, they can miss serious potential birth complications. Such complications may arise from an exposure to toxins or poor maternal nutrition.

Who is at Risk of Developing a Birth Injury?

Certain populations have a higher risk of birth injury. Exposure to toxins, physical trauma and genetic predisposition can all raise the risk of birth injury for newborns and expectant mothers. It is important to recognize these risks to determine if you or your child may be at a greater risk of birth injury.

Preterm Birth

It is estimated that 9.8% of all newborns are preterm births. Children born before the 37th week of pregnancy have a higher risk of birth injury because their brain, muscles and nervous system have not yet fully developed.

Preterm births are also associated with low birthweight. 8.2% of all newborns are born weighing less than 5 pounds and 8 ounces, which puts them at greater risk of problems during delivery. It is estimated that the percentage of preterm and low birthweight births is increasing in the United States.

Genetic Predisposition

Some children have a genetic predisposition to certain birth injuries such as cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify or treat these cases prior to birth.

Exposure to Toxins

Toxins such as methylmercury are extremely dangerous for expectant mothers, as they can damage the developing brain of the newborn child.

Physical Trauma

Physical trauma, such as excessive force from a doctor during delivery, can cause severe damage to a newborn’s head, neck and shoulders. This can directly lead to brain damage or nerve injuries such as Erb’s palsy.

Common Demographics in Birth Injury Cases

Specific demographics have higher concentrations of birth injuries cases.

  • Low-Income Communities: Women from low-income communities may not have access to health insurance or may lack the nutrients needed for a healthy childbirth.
  • Rural Communities: Women in rural communities may not have access to trained healthcare professionals during pregnancy.
  • Limited Access to Quality Health Care: Women in urban, suburban or rural environments who lack access to quality healthcare may not become aware of pregnancy complications prior to birth.

Birth Injury Treatment Success Rates

All birth injuries have different symptoms, treatments and rates of recovery. Some birth injuries require lifelong treatment, while others resolve themselves in the weeks or months after childbirth.

  • Erb’s Palsy: Erb’s palsy has a strong rate of complete recovery. 80% to 96% of children born with the nerve condition will make a full recovery.
  • Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy is neurologically and physically debilitating for patients. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and treatment is solely focused on managing the condition and preventing deformities.
  • Brain Damage: Most newborns suffering from brain injuries had problems with oxygen deprivation during birth. In cases of moderate or severe brain damage, treatment can last months or years.
  • Physical Injuries: Broken bones, lacerations and skull fractures are all physical injuries that may occur during a difficult delivery. These injuries can cause bleeding in the brain, such as subdural hematoma or hemorrhage. Sometimes these injuries can be relatively minor, but severe brain bleeding can cause significant brain damage.

Birth Injury Liability Claims

A new study by Coverys, a Boston-based liability insurer, found that many liability claims regarding pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum involve patient injuries of great severity.

Coverys analyzed 472 claims from the years 2013 to 2017. They discovered that 80% of cases were of high clinical severity. In fact, the mother, infant or both died in 24% of the cases analyzed. 

For cases involving infant claims, injuries are typically categorized into one of the following groups: 

  • Neurological or brain damage (41% of claims)
  • Shoulder injuries (37% of claims)
  • Death or stillbirth (34% of claims)
Birth injuries often make a lifelong impact. Therefore, these types of liability claims are extremely expensive.

Birth Injury Liability Causes

Fortunately, medical professionals are working to identify the causes of improper care during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Medical providers are also putting more focus on ways to improve outcomes for care before, during and after delivery.

The top issues surrounding care during pregnancy, labor and delivery as identified by Coverys are:

  • Miscommunication Opportunities: Many women have inaccurate and unrealistic expectations about the care both they and their baby will receive before, during and following birth. It is important for health care providers to address these expectations ahead of time.
  • Inexperienced Midwives: Midwives may have vastly different levels of clinical experience because regulations on licensing vary by state.
  • Poor Monitoring of Fetal Heart Patterns: It is essential for fetal heart monitoring to be included in ongoing training and skill checks so that health care professionals know what to look for when monitoring a fetus’s heartbeat before, during and after delivery.
  • Poor Management of Labor and Delivery: In the Coverys study, almost half (40%) of birth injury liability claims involved poor management of labor and delivery. Most of these claims were made after a vaginal birth (as opposed to a C-section) proved to be the more dangerous delivery option for the mother and baby. To decrease this issue, medical providers should be well trained for situations where it is necessary to perform a C-section instead of a vaginal birth.

The Truth About Birth Injuries

Technological advances have helped reduce the percentage of birth injuries in the United States, but that does not mean the problem is solved. Low-income and rural communities generally have higher rates of birth injuries. Lack of quality healthcare and maternal nutrition play a significant role in birth injury rates.

However, a large percentage of birth injuries are needlessly caused by medical malpractice each year. Physical trauma or failure to monitor the mother or infant during pregnancy can lead to serious birth injuries with lifelong symptoms and expensive treatment regimens.

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: January 14, 2019

View 10 References
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105110/
  2. http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2014-07-10-cooling-oxygen-deprived-newborns-reduces-chances-brain-damage
  3. http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/b/brachial-plexus-injury
  4. http://www.lebonheur.org/practical-parenting/hearing-loss-in-kids/
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/data.html
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm
  7. https://www.stlouischildrens.org/conditions-treatments/congenital-heart-disease
  8. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/preterm-birth-rates-have-increased-u-s-n778576
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724163/
  10. https://www.floridahospital.com/cerebral-palsy/treatments-cerebral-palsy