Birth Injuries: Definition, Causes, Different Types, and Prevention

Ruby McKenzie
6 Min Read

What is a Birth Injury?

Childbirth is a miraculous event, yet it can be painful and complications can arise. Vaginal births are the most common and usually the safest form of delivery, but some deliveries have to happen via Cesarean sections. Birth injuries (physical harm to the infant during birth) can occur during both vaginal deliveries and C-sections.

Causes of Birth Injuries

One of the most common causes of birth injuries is the size or the position of the baby. High-risk pregnancies can also be linked to birth injuries, and so can the following conditions:

  • Prolonged labor
  • Premature babies (those born before 37 weeks) because they have more fragile bodies
  • Maternal obesity
  • Larger babies (those weighing over 8 pounds, 13 ounces)
  • Dystocia (difficult labor or childbirth)
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion (the mother’s pelvis size and/or shape is not adequate for a vaginal birth)
  • Assisted deliveries (deliveries using forceps or a vacuum)
  • Abnormal birthing presentation (e.g., breech position)

However, women who don’t have high-risk pregnancies may also give birth to a baby with a certain type of birth injury.

8 Common Types of Birth Injuries

#1: Lacerations

Assisted deliveries that use forceps or vacuum extraction to guide the baby through the birth canal can cause facial bruises and lacerations on the scalp and face. Some babies may even suffer these injuries when passing through the birth canal without assistance from these tools.

#2: Fractures

The most common fracture during delivery is a fracture of the collarbone or clavicle. This is most likely to happen if the baby is in a breech position. Fortunately, a fractured clavicle can heal on its own within 10 days.

#3: Facial Paralysis

Facial paralysis can occur during birth when too much pressure is placed on the facial nerve. This pressure occurs when forceps are used during delivery, and it causes a lack of movement on one side of the face. The good news is that paralysis may improve in a few weeks, but if it doesn’t surgery may be needed.

#4: Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is one of the more common birth injuries. It’s a group of disorders that results in impairments of balance, mobility, and posture, and it’s caused by a disruption in blood supply to the brain before, during, or after delivery.

#5: Caput Succedaneum

This is the intense swelling of the soft tissues of the infant’s scalp, and it can happen when traveling through the birth canal. However, it’s more likely to happen to babies delivered by vacuum extraction.

#6: Brain Bleeds

Brain bleeds and hemorrhages are the most serious birth injuries and can lead to death if not treated properly. Some of the most common types of brain bleeds include:

  • Subdural hemorrhage (inner and outer layers of the brain)
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the space around the brain)
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the ventricles)
  • Intraparenchymal hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain tissues)
  • Intracranial hemorrhage (between the skull and brain tissue)
  • Epidural hemorrhage (hemorrhage caused by a skull fracture)

Brain bleeds usually lead to developmental disabilities since they affect the brain.

#7: Brachial Palsy

Brachial palsy happens when the group of nerves that supplies the arms is injured due to trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder. Bruising and swelling of these nerves result in impaired movement that heals within a few months. Tearing of these nerves, on the other hand, may cause permanent nerve damage.

How Can Birth Injuries be Prevented?

Minor birth injuries, such as bruising that may happen during a vaginal birth, may not always be able to be prevented, but the risk of some of the more common and more serious birth injuries can be decreased. For example, high-risk pregnancies usually require a C-section to ensure the safety of both the baby and the mother, and it’s the responsibility of healthcare professionals to make the right decisions in the moment.

Unfortunately, not all obstetricians are quick to identify issues and make alternative plans for a safe delivery. In this case, contacting a birth injury attorney may be necessary for the parents and the children suffering from birth injuries to get the compensation they deserve.

More often than not, the attending physician during delivery and the entire medical facility are to blame for serious birth injuries that cause developmental delays, disabilities, and even death. Birth injuries are a form of medical malpractice since they’re usually caused by the negligence of the obstetrician. It’s important to seek help from a medical malpractice lawyer who specializes in birth injuries to receive compensation.

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