Birth Injury FAQs

What are "Birth Injuries"?

Baby The term "birth injury" refers to any internal or external damage or injury to a baby that occurs during pregnancy or labor and delivery. Birth injuries can be the result of developmental abnormalities or trauma and duress during childbirth or pregnancy. How is a "Birth Injury" Different from a "Birth Defect"?

A birth defect is a congenital condition that is passed on through genetic abnormalities. A birth injury is not something that is inherited but rather an injury that occurs as a result of some event during pregnancy or childbirth. For example, cleft palate and clubfoot are 2 common congenital birth defects. They are the result of genetics not anything that happened during pregnancy. By contrast, Erb's palsy is a common birth injury involving paralysis of the arm. Erb's palsy has nothing to do with genetics. The condition is caused by a specific type of nerve damage babies often suffer during traumatic childbirth.

Most commonly occurring birth injuries fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. Orthopedic and External Damage: this category covers things like broken bones, bruises, lacerations and other physical injuries caused by external trauma. The most common injury in this category is a clavicle fracture (broken collar bone), which frequently occurs when the baby's shoulders become stuck in the birth canal.
  2. Nerve Injuries: the brain controls movement of the body through a series of nerves that run from the brain down through the spine. During a stressful childbirth the baby's nerve channels frequently get damaged from overstretching or compression as the maneuver through the birth canal. There is a particular grouping of nerves in the neck / shoulder area (the brachial plexus nerves) that are frequently injured during vaginal delivery. Injuries to these nerves cause common birth injuries such as Erb's palsy and Klumpke's palsy.
  3. Brain Injuries: Damage to the baby's brain can occur anytime the supply of oxygen to the baby is disrupted or restricted. Without oxygen, cells in the baby's developing brain quickly die. This type of injury to brain cells is permanent. The most common birth injury resulting from brain damage is cerebral palsy - a disability affecting the child's ability to control body movement and coordination.
Are all Birth Injuries Caused by Medical Malpractice?

Not all birth injuries are the result of medical malpractice or anything the doctors did or did not do during pregnancy or childbirth. Many birth injuries are simply the result of developmental abnormalities or environmental factors that doctors have no control over. However, a large percentage of birth injuries are directly caused by medical errors or negligent care. Negligent use of forceps or vacuum extractors; delay in performing an emergency C-section; and prenatal diagnostic mistakes are just a few of the many common medical errors that directly cause thousands of preventable birth injuries each year.

Once you realize that your baby suffered a birth injury, the natural questions for most parents become how and why. Many parents don't even consider the possibility that their baby's birth injury might be the result of a mistake by the doctors or hospital staff during delivery. But the fact is that medical negligence is one of the most likely reasons why your baby suffered a birth injury. Even the best doctors make mistakes. If you think your healthcare providers may have been responsible for the injury, the only way to know for certain is to consult a medical expert and get a formal opinion from them.