What Is Considered a Birth Injury?
“Birth injuries” generally refers to the injuries that a child suffers before, during or immediately after delivery. In most cases, the injury occurs while the baby is passing through the birth canal.
Learn More About Birth InjuriesDue to medical advances, including the increased use of ultrasound technology and cesarean delivery ("C-sections") to detect and overcome difficulties that arise during the birthing process, birth injuries are much less common today than they were just a few decades ago, according to the Merck Manual.
However, birth injuries still occur. In some cases, they cannot be avoided. They may happen because a mother's birth canal is too small, a fetus is too large or a fetus is abnormally positioned in the womb.
In other cases, birth injuries can be avoided. They result from preventable mistakes made by doctors, nurses, midwives and other medical professionals.
In other words, the injuries can be traced to medical malpractice, or the failure to provide an acceptable standard of medical care.
Children who suffer injuries during birth may be left with permanent scarring or a physical and/or mental disability such as cerebral palsy.
What Are Common Birth Injuries?Birth injuries typically involve physical trauma, nerve damage or depletion of oxygen. The most common types of birth injuries are:
Collar bone fractures - Medical professionals may mishandle shoulder dystocia, which occurs when a child's shoulders become lodged behind the mother's pubic bone.
Brachial plexus injuries - During the process of dealing with shoulder dystocia, medical professionals may damage the bundle of nerves located at the base of the neck, or brachial plexus. Two types of these injuries are Erb's palsy and Klumpke's palsy.
Spinal cord injuries - A child may suffer paralysis or neurological damage if spinal nerves become compressed due to difficulties that arise during the delivery.
Perinatal asphyxia - If umbilical cord problems or excessive bleeding occurs, it can disrupt oxygen flow to the child's brain. The child may, in turn, suffer severe and irreversible brain damage. Cerebral palsy is a condition that has been linked to oxygen depletion at birth.
Facial nerve palsy - If there is too much pressure placed on a child's facial nerves during delivery, it can damage the nerves and cause the child to lose voluntary muscle movement in the face.
Extracranial injuries - Due to blunt force trauma, a child may suffer a skull fracture or bleeding on the outside of the brain. Mishandling of a vacuum extractor or forceps during a difficult delivery may cause this trauma.
Intracranial hemorrhage - A blood vessel in a child's brain may rupture due to disruption in blood flow to the brain. The child may suffer permanent brain damage.
In some situations, a child may be born with a birth defect due to something that happens while the child is still developing in the womb. Again, the defect may be traced to medical malpractice.
For example, if a doctor knew that a woman was pregnant and prescribed a medication commonly linked to birth defects without advising the mother of this risk, the doctor could potentially be held liable.
In other situations, birth injuries can arise from failure to adequately monitor and treat a child immediately after birth. For instance, if a child develops jaundice - marked by yellowish skin color - it must be promptly addressed. If it is not, the child may suffer serious complications, including brain damage.