What Causes Birth Injuries? June 3, 2020.

What Causes Birth Injuries?

The joy of becoming a new mother is unlike any other, and it can be a life-changing experience. However, not every birth is a good experience.

While thousands of babies are born every day without complications, birth injuries are still a common occurrence in the delivery room. For every 1,000 babies born in the United States, an average of seven will suffer a birth injury. While it may seem far-fetched to think this type of incident could happen to you, the reality is that it can impact any family.

As a soon-to-be parent, understanding the nature of birth injuries can help you detect any potential issues as early as possible.

Common Birth Injuries

Some of the most common birth injuries include the following:


Birth asphyxia is responsible for approximately 900,000 fetal deaths each year. Babies can suffer this condition if they are deprived of oxygen during the birthing process. The results are often temporary or permanent brain damage. Since it results in cognitive damage, symptoms may not be apparent until months or years later.

For this reason, it’s important for parents to be aware of the common signs associated with asphyxia, which include:

  • Skin discoloration
  • No breathing or weak breathing
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Low heart rate
  • Blood-clotting abnormalities
  • Lethargy
  • Acidosis
  • Seizures

Cerebral Palsy

It’s estimated that around 20% of all people with cerebral palsy developed the condition as a result of a birth trauma. It’s often caused in newborns when they are deprived of oxygen or suffer a brain injury during labor and delivery.

Depending on its severity, cerebral palsy can have an enormous impact on both mobility and mental development. Symptoms may appear early on but others may not manifest for up to three years. However, examples of symptoms parents typically notice include poor coordination, speech impediments, and weak muscles.

Brachial Plexus Injury

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves found between the neck and shoulders that controls muscle function and feeling in your chest, shoulder, arms, and hands. If there are complications during delivery, the baby’s brachial plexus nerves can be damaged if the head and arms are pulled in different directions. It can cause weakness in the shoulder muscles, stiffness, or sometimes paralysis.

In some cases, the injury only causes bruising and swelling and movement returns within a few months. However, if the nerves are torn or ripped, the baby may never recover full use of the affected limb.

Marks from Assistive Devices

Some vaginal deliveries require the assistance of devices such as forceps or vacuums. Typically, doctors will not perform an operative delivery unless the mother or baby is at risk because they can increase the risk of an injury.

After forceps and vacuums are used, it’s common for bruises to appear but they should disappear within a couple days of birth.


It goes without saying that a newborn baby’s bones are fragile and must be handled with the utmost care during delivery. Fractures are more likely to occur when the baby is pulled forcefully or if a doctor uses forceps, especially when a baby is in breech position. While these injuries often heal quickly on their own without long-term complications, this type of injury is also preventable and should not happen in the first place.


This occurs when an infant’s blood vessels become damaged during birth and blood is released on the baby’s skin or scalp. Since the condition does not affect the brain, this is considered one of the more mild birth injuries and can heal on its own. However, it can come with severe complications if the injury is not properly evaluated. Occasionally, it causes anemia and jaundice. This is when correct neonatal care is required. Leaving jaundice unresolved can lead to health issues such as hearing loss, improper development of tooth enamel, a permanent upward gaze, involuntary movements, or cerebral palsy.

Signs of Birth Trauma

Birth injury symptoms can range from mild to severe and some are not apparent until a child is older. The immediate signs that your baby suffered a birth injury may include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Arched back while crying
  • Difficulties with sucking, eating, and swallowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Light sensitivity
  • Seizures
  • Inability to move arms

In addition to the signs previously mentioned, some symptoms appear in the form of health issues.

  • Anemia
  • Changes in vision
  • Fever
  • High-frequency hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Hypertension or hypotension
  • Inflamed nasal passages
  • Low heart rate
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Persistent coughing
  • Poor weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Wheezing
  • Jaundice

Causes of Birth Injuries

When a birth injury occurs, the effects can be devastating, sometimes leading to long-term health issues or death. Determining the cause of your baby’s injury is crucial in whether or not it could have been prevented.

Delayed Birth

One of the leading causes of birth injuries is a delayed birth. Labors that last more than 18 hours are considered difficult, and at this point, the pressure becomes too much for a baby to withstand. This is generally when a baby shows signs of distress and responds with an elevated blood pressure.

Genetic Issues

Chromosomal abnormalities or single-gene defects can cause health issues with a newborn baby. While these are typically unavoidable, they can also be caused by a negligent health care provider during the pregnancy and delivery. For example, 28% of babies whose mothers took the anti-seizure medication Depakote experienced birth defects and developmental delays.

Natural Risk Factors

These natural factors can increase an infant’s risk of facing birth trauma:

  • Birth weight over 8 pounds 13 ounces
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature labor
  • Birth after 40 weeks gestation
  • Difficult or prolonged labor
  • Breech presentation at the time of delivery
  • Cephalopelvic distortion or abnormal uterine shape

Medical Malpractice

Some injuries are completely avoidable and are a result of negligence by doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and midwives. Whether it’s the mishandling of delivery tools, failure to administer fetal monitoring, or poor communication, medical care providers are expected to know better.

Contact our Cleveland Birth Injury Lawyers

At The Mellino Law Firm LLC, our medical malpractice attorneys are devoted to protecting the rights of those who suffered a birth injury. Our lead attorney Christopher Mellino has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for families whose children have been injured during birth due to negligence, and he’s here to help you too.

Contact the The Mellino Law Firm LLC at (440) 333-3800 to speak to one of our birth injury attorneys today.