Types of Birth Injuries

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

Many types of birth injuries can occur during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. In some instances, they're unavoidable. However, in others, they're due to medical malpractice. Learn about common birth injury types and steps to take if your family is affected. You might be entitled to financial compensation, and we may be able to help.

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Understanding Birth Injury Types

A birth injury usually happens while the baby passes through the birth canal. However, in some cases, injuries occur during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Types of birth injuries vary in severity, with some being temporary and others causing lifelong harm.

For many families, it’s not always clear if a birth injury has occurred since newborns can’t communicate pain or discomfort. Additionally, many birth injury types have no symptoms early on.

This means that new parents might not realize something went wrong until their child grows and begins falling behind in development.

If you think something might have gone wrong during your child’s birth, it’s critical to watch for any signs of problems. Getting the correct diagnosis as quickly as possible is the best thing you can do to help your child, as proper care can make all the difference.

If you have questions or just want to chat about your concerns, reach out to one of our labor and delivery nurses right now.

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Spotting Types of Birth Injuries in Your Baby

Determining if your child has a birth injury requires careful observation and communication with health care professionals.

Did you know?

The Apgar test is a quick way to evaluate the health of a newborn. If you don’t know your baby’s Apgar score, finding it out can offer insight into whether something went wrong during their birth.

Here are steps you can take to determine if your child could have a birth injury:

  1. Learn typical developmental milestones for your baby. This can help you keep track of when your baby should develop certain skills like sitting up and crawling.
  2. Monitor your child’s progress. Be sure to keep detailed records of your child’s developmental progress. Include when you first noticed issues and how long they have been occurring.
  3. Consult with your child’s pediatrician. If you have concerns about your child’s development or health, talk with a doctor you trust right away.
  4. Get diagnostic testing for your child. Imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan, blood tests, and genetic testing may reveal a birth injury.
  5. Get a second opinion. If you’re uncertain about a diagnosis or treatment plan, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from another health care provider.

If you have any concerns about your child’s development, take our FREE Milestone quiz to check if they are on track.


Take Our Milestones Quiz

Taking note of your child’s physical, social, and emotional skills can help you determine if they potentially suffered from an injury at birth. An early diagnosis can help your child get the treatment they need as soon as possible.

Q1: How old is your child?

0-2 Months

3-4 Months

5-6 Months

7-9 Months

10-12 Months

13-18 Months

19-23 Months

24+ Months


  • Q2: Can your child hold their head steadily on their own?
  • Q3: Can your child push themselves up when they are lying on their stomach?
  • Q4: Has your child started to make smoother movements with their arms and legs?
  • Q5: Does your child smile at other people?
  • Q6: Can your child bring their hands to their mouth?
  • Q7: Does your child turn their head when they hear a noise?
  • Q8: Does your child coo or make gurgling noises?
  • Q9: Does your child follow things with their eyes?
  • Q10: Does your child try to look at their parents or caregivers?
  • Q11: Does your child show boredom, cry, or fuss when engaged in an activity that hasn’t changed in a while?
0-2-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child hold their head steadily on their own?
  • Q3: Does your child push down on their legs when their feet are on a flat surface?
  • Q4: Has your child started to roll over from their stomach to their back?
  • Q5: Can your child hold and shake a toy such as a rattle?
  • Q6: Does your child bring their hands to their mouth?
  • Q7: Does your child play with people and start to cry when the playing stops?
  • Q8: Does your child smile spontaneously, especially at people?
  • Q9: Does your child copy some movements and facial expressions of other people?
  • Q10: Does your child babble with expressions and copy sounds they hear?
  • Q11: Does your child cry in different ways to show hunger, pain, or tiredness?
  • Q12: Does your child respond to affection like hugging or kissing?
  • Q13: Does your child follow moving things with their eyes from side to side?
  • Q14: Does your child recognize familiar people at a distance?
3-4-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child roll over on both sides (front to back/back to front)?
  • Q3: Has your child begun to sit without support?
  • Q4: Does your child rock back and forth?
  • Q5: Can your child support their weight on their legs (and perhaps bounce) when standing?
  • Q6: Has your child begun to pass things from one hand to the other?
  • Q7: Does your child bring objects such as toys to their mouth?
  • Q8: Does your child know if someone is not familiar to them and is a stranger?
  • Q9: Does your child respond to other people’s emotions, such as a smile or a frown?
  • Q10: Does your child enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror?
  • Q11: Does your child look at things around them?
  • Q12: Does your child respond to sounds they hear by making sounds themselves?
  • Q13: Does your child make sounds to show joy or displeasure?
  • Q14: Does your child respond to their own name?
  • Q15: Has your child started to string vowels together, such as "ah," "eh," or "oh," or started to say consonant sounds such as "m" or "b"?
  • Q16: Has your child begun to laugh?
5-6-years old child


  • Q2: Can your child crawl?
  • Q3: Can your child stand while holding on to something to support them?
  • Q4: Can your child sit without support?
  • Q5: Can your child pull themselves up to stand?
  • Q6: Does your child play peekaboo?
  • Q7: Can your child move things from one hand to the other?
  • Q8: Can your child pick small things up, such as a piece of cereal, with their thumb and index finger?
  • Q9: Does your child look for things that they see you hide?
  • Q10: Does your child watch the path of something as it falls?
  • Q11: Does your child show fear when around strangers?
  • Q12: Does your child become clingy with adults who are familiar to them?
  • Q13: Does your child have favorite toys?
  • Q14: Does your child use their fingers to point?
  • Q15: Does your child understand “no”?
  • Q16: Does your child make a lot of repetitive sounds, such as “mamama” or “bababa”?
  • Q17: Does your child copy the sounds and gestures of other people?
7-9 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child stand alone with no support?
  • Q3: Does your child walk while holding on to furniture?
  • Q4: Can your child take a few steps without holding on to anything?
  • Q5: Can your child get into a sitting position without any help?
  • Q6: Does your child bang two things together when playing?
  • Q7: Does your child poke with their index finger?
  • Q8: Has your child started to use things like hairbrushes or drinking cups correctly?
  • Q9: Does your child find hidden objects easily?
  • Q10: Does your child play peekaboo or pat-a-cake?
  • Q11: Does your child become shy or nervous around strangers?
  • Q12: Does your child repeat actions or sounds to get attention?
  • Q13: Does your child put out an arm or leg to help when getting dressed?
  • Q14: Does your child cry when a parent leaves the room?
  • Q15: Does your child show that they have favorite things or people?
  • Q16: Does your child show fear?
  • Q17: Does your child say things such as “mama,” “dada,” or “uh-oh”?
  • Q18: Does your child try to say the words you say?
  • Q19: Has your child started to use gestures like waving or shaking their head “no”?
10-12 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child walk by themselves?
  • Q3: Does your child walk up stairs and run?
  • Q4: Does your child pull toys while walking?
  • Q5: Can your child drink from a cup on their own?
  • Q6: Can your child eat with a spoon on their own?
  • Q7: Can your child help undress themselves?
  • Q8: Does your child have occasional temper tantrums?
  • Q9: Does your child show affection to familiar people?
  • Q10: Does your child become clingy in new situations?
  • Q11: Does your child explore their environment alone with parents close by?
  • Q12: Can your child say several single words?
  • Q13: Can your child say and shake their head “no”?
  • Q14: Does your child point to show things to other people?
  • Q15: Does your child scribble?
  • Q16: Does your child know what ordinary products such as phones, spoons, and brushes are used for?
  • Q17: Can your child follow one-step commands such as “sit down” or “stand up”?
  • Q18: Does your child play with a doll or stuffed animal by pretending to feed it?
13-18 years old child


  • Q2: Has your child begun to run?
  • Q3: Has your child kicked a ball?
  • Q4: Can your child climb down and onto furniture on their own?
  • Q5: Can your child walk up and down stairs while holding on?
  • Q6: Can your child stand on their tiptoes?
  • Q7: Has your child thrown a ball overhand?
  • Q8: Does your child copy others, especially people older than them?
  • Q9: Does your child get excited around other children?
  • Q10: Has your child shown more independence as they've aged?
  • Q11: Does your child do what they were told not to do and become defiant?
  • Q12: Does your child point to things when they are named?
  • Q13: Does your child know names of familiar people or body parts?
  • Q14: Does your child say 2 to 4-word sentences?
  • Q15: Does your child repeat words they hear?
  • Q16: Does your child complete sentences and rhymes in familiar books?
  • Q17: Does your child name items in books, such as dogs, cats, and birds?
  • Q18: Does your child play simple pretend games?
  • Q19: Has your child started to use one hand more than the other?
  • Q20: Has your child begun to sort shapes and colors?
  • Q21: Does your child follow 2-step instructions, such as “pick up your hat and put it on your head?”
19-23 years old child


  • Q2: Can your child run easily?
  • Q3: Can your child climb?
  • Q4: Can your child walk up and down stairs with one foot on each step?
  • Q5: Can your child dress and undress themselves?
  • Q6: Does your child show affection for friends without being told?
  • Q7: Does your child take turns when playing games?
  • Q8: Does your child show concern when others are crying?
  • Q9: Does your child understand the idea of “mine" and "theirs"?
  • Q10: Does your child show many different emotions?
  • Q11: Does your child copy adults and friends?
  • Q12: Does your child separate easily from their parents?
  • Q13: Does your child get upset when there is a major change in their routine?
  • Q14: Does your child say words such as “I,” “me,” “we,” “you,” and some plural nouns?
  • Q15: Can your child say their first name, age, and gender?
  • Q16: Can your child carry on a conversation with 2 to 3 sentences?
  • Q17: Can your child work toys with buttons and other moving parts?
  • Q18: Does your child play pretend with dolls, animals, or people?
  • Q19: Can your child finish 3 or 4 piece puzzles?
  • Q20: Can your child copy a circle when drawing?
  • Q21: Can your child turn pages of a book one page at a time?
  • Q22: Can your child turn door handles?
24 months + old child

Common Types of Birth Injuries

Common birth injury types usually result from maternal or fetal health issues, difficult labor and deliveries, and medical negligence.

Learn more about the most common types of birth injuries and the symptoms you should watch out for.

Brain Damage and Brain Injury

Brain damage or injury involves trauma to the infant’s brain. This is often caused by bleeding in or around the brain (intracranial hemorrhage), blood clots, oxygen deprivation, or other complications.

The following symptoms could mean brain damage has occurred:

  • Apnea (prolonged periods where the infant stops breathing)
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Low heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Visible lacerations on the baby’s scalp

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a common childhood condition affecting movement, balance, and posture. It is typically caused by brain damage and leads to problems with muscle tone and control.

Symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

  • Delayed growth and/or speech development
  • Impaired fine motor skills, like sitting up, crawling, and picking up objects
  • Muscle stiffness or spasticity (prolonged muscle tightness)
  • Neurological complications, such as seizures or abnormal eye movements

CP caused by head trauma during delivery and oxygen deprivation are often due to cerebral palsy medical malpractice.

Erb’s Palsy and Brachial Plexus Injuries

Erb’s palsy and other brachial plexus injuries affect the network of nerves that controls the muscle function of the arms, hands, and shoulders.

This type of nerve damage often results from the baby’s shoulder getting stuck in the birth canal during delivery (shoulder dystocia).

Common symptoms of Erb’s palsy include:

  • Decreased sensation in the affected arm
  • Lack of muscle control in the hand, wrist, or elbow
  • Weakness or paralysis of the affected arm(s)

Erb’s palsy may be caused by using excessive force during delivery on the baby’s head or neck, causing the brachial plexus nerves to overstretch, tear, or compress.

Erb’s palsy medical malpractice could be involved if your child’s brachial plexus injury could have been prevented.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)

A newborn with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy sleeps in a hospital crib with a small plastic tube in their nose.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) occurs when oxygen or blood flow to the baby’s brain is reduced or stopped before, during, or immediately after birth.

This birth injury could lead to long-term complications, like a severe disability or even death.

A baby with HIE may have:

  • Developmental delays
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart rate below the normal range
  • Seizures or epilepsy

Intrauterine Fetal Demise (Stillbirth)

Intrauterine fetal demise (IUFD), also known as stillbirth, is the death of a baby after 20 weeks of pregnancy. IUFD is not the same as miscarriage, which is the loss of a baby before 20 weeks.

Some common symptoms of stillbirth include:

  • Absence of fetal movements
  • Decreased uterine size
  • No detectable fetal heartbeat during prenatal checkups
  • Vaginal bleeding

Newborn Cephalohematoma (Skull Bleeding)

Newborn cephalohematoma occurs when blood accumulates between the baby’s skull and the periosteum (its outermost layer). It typically appears as a raised bump on the baby’s scalp that shows after delivery.

Skull bleeding may show up as:

  • Paleness or discoloration in the affected area
  • Soft, fluid lump on the baby’s head
  • Swelling on the scalp
  • Tenderness in the baby’s head

Newborn Kernicterus

Kernicterus is a severe and rare complication of untreated jaundice. Newborn jaundice is common and occurs when excessive bilirubin (pigment from red blood cells broken down by the liver) accumulates in the blood. It can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes.

A lack of oxygen during delivery can disrupt the typical breakdown of bilirubin, leading to jaundice.

Whenever trauma occurs that leads to bruising or bleeding, such as in a cephalohematoma, it causes an increased breakdown in red blood cells, which puts an infant at risk for increased bilirubin levels.

When bilirubin levels get too high, brain damage can occur, possibly leading to dyskinetic (athetoid) cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and more. This is why detecting and treating jaundice before it leads to kernicterus is incredibly important.

Symptoms of kernicterus include:

  • Apnea (brief pauses in breathing)
  • High-pitched cry
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy (excessive sleepiness)
  • Muscle floppiness, resembling a rag doll
  • Poor feeding

Spinal Cord Damage

Spinal cord damage may occur from pulling on the baby during a vaginal delivery. In severe cases, this birth trauma leads to permanent damage, such as paralysis.

Symptoms of spinal cord trauma include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of sensation or numbness in affected areas
  • Paralysis or weakness in the lower body or limbs

Spinal cord damage is often due to excessive force during delivery. It could also be caused by complications from forceps or vacuum extraction delivery.

Top Causes of Birth Injuries

Birth injury causes often involve common situations like prolonged or difficult labor, low birth weight, and fetal or maternal health issues. Some types of birth injuries can’t be prevented, but medical malpractice is involved in other cases.

Here is more information on what can cause various types of birth injuries.

Fetal Health Issues

Common fetal conditions that cause the various types of birth injuries include prematurity and low birth weight, but there are many more risk factors.

Fetal issues that can lead to many types of birth injuries include:

  • Abnormal birthing position: If a baby is breech (feet-first) or facing forward during delivery, they are at an increased risk of birth injuries. Often, babies in breech position may need to be delivered via cesarean section (C-section).
  • Fetal distress: Signs such as abnormal heart rate or oxygen deprivation can lead to birth injuries if not promptly addressed.
  • Hemolytic disease: This is caused by incompatibility between the baby’s and mother’s blood types.
  • Infection: Neonatal infections can lead to sepsis, which causes the body to attack itself while fighting off illnesses.
  • Multiple births: Having twins, triplets, or more presents a higher risk of complications.
  • Placenta issues: Problems such as the placenta becoming separated from the womb (placental abruption) can cause serious injury and even death to an unborn baby.
  • Umbilical cord problems: The umbilical cord may get wrapped around the baby’s neck during delivery, causing oxygen loss.

Maternal Health Issues

Various maternal health conditions can cause birth injuries. These conditions could either be pre-existing or develop during pregnancy.

Here are some maternal health issues that can cause problematic births:

  • Infections: These can include untreated sexually transmitted diseases that are passed to the baby.
  • Maternal obesity: Being overweight can lead to complications before or after childbirth, like a large baby (macrosomia). It can also result in vaginal delivery difficulties that cause caput succedaneum (swelling of the newborn’s scalp).
  • Medical conditions: Pre-existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes can pose risks during pregnancy and delivery.

Medical Malpractice

When health care professionals fail to uphold the standard of care during pregnancy and childbirth, the risk of birth injury increases.

Birth injuries caused by medical negligence can be especially traumatic for new parents since they may feel powerless in protecting their child.

These instances could be considered medical malpractice:

  • Failing to properly manage maternal health during labor
  • Failure to monitor and respond to fetal distress
  • Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors
  • Incorrect administration or dosing of medications during labor or delivery
  • Not performing a timely C-section in cases of fetal distress
  • Use of excessive force during delivery

If you suspect your child was harmed because of medical negligence, you may be able to access financial compensation through a birth injury settlement.

Find out if your family is eligible right now with a free case review.

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Our team can see if you qualify for financial compensation.

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Treatment Options for Types of Birth Injuries

Treatments for birth injuries differ depending on the injury and how serious the diagnosis is.

Typical treatment options to help children with birth injuries include:

  • Assistive devices: Devices like hearing aids and wheelchairs support children with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injuries.
  • Occupational therapy: Helps babies refine motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination and feeding.
  • Physical therapy: Helps children with joint mobility issues, like brachial plexus injury, regain movement.
  • Surgery: Erb’s palsy and cerebral palsy surgeries can enhance life quality and manage pain for these conditions.

Get Legal Help for a Birth Injury

Obstetricians and other medical professionals have a duty to provide the proper medical care to keep you and your baby safe. This includes identifying issues before, during, and after childbirth. When this doesn’t happen, harm can come to you and your child.

If your child has suffered from one of the various types of birth injuries due to a medical error, you should not have to face it alone. Connecting with an experienced birth injury lawyer can help your family get the money you need to provide proper care for your child.

The Birth Injury Justice Center partners with some of the best and most experienced birth injury law firms across the country.

See if we can connect you with a lawyer in your area by getting a free consultation right now.

Types of Birth Injuries FAQs

What are considered birth injuries?

Birth injuries refer to any damage or harm to a newborn before, during, or shortly after the birthing process. They can result from complications during birth and may be temporary or permanent.

Examples include brachial plexus injury, fractures, and cerebral palsy.

Birth injuries are sometimes caused by excessive force during delivery, oxygen deprivation, or medical negligence.

How common are birth injuries?

Birth injuries occur in approximately 7 of 1,000 live births in the United States. Some births are more at risk due to various factors, including the baby’s size, maternal health issues, and the baby’s position in the birth canal. Knowing your potential risk factors can help prevent complications.

What are the most common birth injuries?

The most common birth injury in babies is a fracture to the clavicle or collarbone. This usually occurs when there is difficulty delivering the baby through the birth canal, and their shoulder gets stuck.

What’s the most common birth injury in mothers?

Tears to the perineum (the skin between the vagina and anus) and episiotomy (surgical cuts to the perineum) are the most common birth injuries in mothers. Up to 90% of mothers who give birth will experience some form of perineal tear.

Can you sue for birth injuries?

Yes. If medical malpractice caused serious harm to your child, you can sue for a birth injury. If a lawyer finds that you have a strong case, they can help you file a birth injury lawsuit for financial compensation.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

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.

View Sources
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  8. Cleveland Clinic. (2021, December 28). Cephalohematoma. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22229-cephalohematoma#:~:text=Cephalohematoma%20
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Nurse Beth Carter

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