10 of the Most Common Birth Injuries

According to the Birth Injury Guide (a detailed resource for families who are coping with birth trauma), 6 to 8 out of every 1,000 babies are born with a birth injury. This means that approximately 1 in every 9,714 Americans sustains an injury due to medical malpractice or negligence at birth. 

Many birth injuries caused by medical malpractice or negligence have lifelong consequences which can include expensive medical care. If you believe that your child may have sustained a birth injury as a result of medical malpractice, it’s important to reach out to an experienced birth injury lawyer who can discuss your options and act on your behalf to secure justice and compensation. 

Murphy, Falcon & Murphy’s team of personal injury attorneys has helped many parents obtain financial damages for birth trauma, and we are ready to help you do the same. We understand this is a challenging time, and we want you to know that you can trust our lawyers to work with compassion, discretion, and dedication to help you navigate the legal system and get the results that you and your family deserve. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation with our team in Baltimore, please contact us today.

Here are ten of the most common types of birth injuries and their symptoms: 

1. Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a neurological motor disability that can affect a person’s ability to move and maintain good balance and posture. It is caused by abnormal brain development in the region of the brain that controls motor skills, resulting in muscle spasms, weak muscles, and poor movement control. 

Symptoms and severity vary from person to person. Someone with severe cerebral palsy may be unable to ever walk on their own and require lifelong care, while someone with mild cerebral palsy may simply have poorer-than-average balance. There is no cure for cerebral palsy, and it often coincides with related health conditions including seizures, learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, and difficulty with speech.

In many cases, cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain during birth. If a medical professional fails to properly monitor the mother, uses poor birth techniques, or neglects to respond to fetal distress during delivery, the baby may be vulnerable to a hypoxic episode that damages brain tissue and results in cerebral palsy.

Early symptoms can include:

  • Lack of muscle coordination, especially fine motor skills
  • Stiff muscles
  • Late development (delays in reaching milestones like taking first steps)
  • Difficulty swallowing

2. Brachial Plexus Injuries

The brachial plexus is the web of nerves that transmits signals from the spinal cord to the shoulders, arms, and hands. These nerves can be injured when they are stretched, compressed, or torn away from the spinal cord. 

There are different kinds of brachial plexus injuries; for example, Erb’s Palsy affects the nerves that control the arm, leading to weakness, poor motor control, and/or an arm that appears to hang limply off the body. Many brachial plexus injuries heal over time, especially with physical therapy, but in some cases, they can cause long-term or permanent damage. Symptoms can include stiff joints, chronic pain, numbness, muscle atrophy, or complete paralysis. 

Brachial plexus injuries are most common in contact sports and car accidents, but sometimes they can be sustained during difficult births when the baby’s neck is stretched up and away from its shoulder. When the baby’s head is born, but its shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone, this is called “shoulder dystocia,” and it commonly results in brachial plexus injuries.

The severity of nerve damage will determine the severity and longevity of symptoms, but most infants with brachial plexus injuries can recover both movement and feeling in the affected areas with daily physical therapy exercises. 

Early symptoms can include:

  • A weakened grip in one hand
  • Numbness
  • Odd arm positioning (may bend toward the body or hang limp)
  • Partial or full lack of movement

3. Birth Fractures

Babies’ bones contain a higher ratio of cartilage than adult bones; over time, through a process called endochondral ossification, this cartilage is gradually replaced by hardened bones. This higher ratio of cartilage early in life means that baby bones are more flexible and prone to fractures during a challenging delivery. 

When medical professionals misuse birth-assisting tools or utilize poor birthing techniques, bone fractures are more likely to occur, especially in the baby’s clavicle (collarbone). Rarer types of fractures include breaks in the skull, arm, or spine. 

Fortunately, bone fractures almost always heal fully on their own, although the baby may need to be immobilized to treat the fracture. 

Early symptoms can include:

  • Redness, swelling, and/or bruising around the broken bone
  • Obvious signs of pain (constant crying, sensitivity when the affected area is touched)
  • Inability to move the broken limb
  • A lump appearing in the affected area within weeks

4. Cephalohematoma

Cephalohematomas can occur when blood vessels on the baby’s head are damaged during labor and delivery, causing blood to pool between the skull and the scalp. This creates a soft bulge on the back of the skull, and for several weeks or months, the bulge should harden as the blood calcifies, then shrink and disappear. Sometimes, the center disappears faster than the edges, giving it a crater-like appearance and feel. 

Cephalohematomas are not rare — they occur in 1 to 2% of all live births and are more likely to occur during deliveries assisted by forceps or other birth-assisting tools. In the majority of cases, they should heal on their own within three months, but physicians may also choose to prescribe treatments, therapies, draining surgeries, or other medications to speed up the healing process. 

Early symptoms can include:

  • A soft, unusual bulge on the back of the skull
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Jaundice
  • Infection

5. Caput Succedaneum

During births where the baby is subjected to prolonged pressure (from the dilated cervix, vaginal walls, or birthing instruments used during delivery), they may develop caput succedaneum or swelling, puffiness, and bruising of the scalp. This is a non-life-threatening condition that usually heals on its own within a few days or weeks, but it does put infants at heightened risk for developing other health issues like jaundice.

Although they can be caused by similar factors, caput succedaneum should not be confused with cephalohematoma. The latter describes bleeding under the scalp, while the former describes general puffiness and swelling. This puffiness is caused by extreme pressure, and caput succedaneum is far more likely to occur if medical professional misuses vacuum suction or forceps.

Early symptoms can include:

  • Puffy, swollen, soft skin on the scalp, which may dimple when pressed
  • A slightly pointed head (due to the pressure placed on the bones during delivery. This process is called “molding,” and the head should return to a normal shape over time)

6. Perinatal Asphyxia

Perinatal asphyxia describes a condition in which the baby lacks sufficient oxygen supply just before, during, or after delivery. This can be caused by a variety of scenarios, including prolapsed umbilical cords (when the cord comes out before the baby does), pinched umbilical cords, Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (which happens when the baby is stressed, defecates meconium, and inhales it directly before, during, or after delivery), or premature births in which the baby’s lungs are not fully functional. 

Left untreated, this lack of oxygen can lead to a variety of health issues up to and including brain damage and death. If a baby is not breathing, medical professionals must take quick action to supply the blood with the oxygen it needs to prevent organ damage. 

It is easy to tell when a child is born not breathing. Early symptoms include:

  • Silence during or after birth
  • Limpness
  • Blue tint to the skin
  • Abnormal breathing — lack of breathing, rasping breathing, or rapid breathing

7. Intracranial Hemorrhage 

Intracranial hemorrhages involve acute bleeding inside the skull or brain. There are four types of intracranial hemorrhages:

  • Epidural hematoma: an accumulation of blood between the skull and the outermost covering of the brain
  • Subdural hematoma: an accumulation of blood on the surface of the brain
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: bleeding between the brain and the thin tissues called meninges that cover the brain
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage: bleeding inside of the brain

Intracranial hemorrhages may be caused at birth by either birth asphyxia (lack of oxygen) or birth trauma (injuries caused by the use of excessive force, often with birth assisting tools like forceps). In many cases, complications related to infant brain bleeds stem from medical negligence during labor. 

Symptoms vary based on the severity and location of the brain bleed, but they can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Apnea
  • Irritability and difficulty feeding
  • Shallow, strained breathing 

8. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

Subconjunctival hemorrhages occur when the small blood vessels just behind the eye rupture, creating bright red spots on the whites of the affected eyes. This is most likely to occur during a difficult delivery when the infant is subjected to very high pressure, including pressure from vacuum suction birth-assisting tools. 

Usually, subconjunctival hemorrhages heal on their own within a few weeks, but in some cases, they may lead to permanent eye damage. 

Symptoms can include: A red patch in the white part of the infant’s affected eye, sometimes covering the entire white of the eye

9. Facial Paralysis

Another type of birth injury that is commonly caused by too much pressure during delivery is facial paralysis. This can occur when the nerves in the infant’s face (especially the seventh cranial nerve) are pinched or otherwise damaged, and like many birth injuries, it is most common when forceps or vacuum suction is used to help pull the baby out. The bottom half of the face is most commonly affected.

Fortunately, most cases of facial paralysis improve on their own with time, but some infants may suffer from permanent paralysis and require physical therapy and special care.

Early symptoms include:

  • Difficulty closing or opening one or both eyes
  • Partly limp/uneven facial expressions while crying
  • The mouth does not move the same on both sides
  • Complete paralysis of one or both sides of the face

10. Spinal Cord Injuries

When an infant’s spine is bruised, torn, or otherwise damaged during labor and delivery, they may sustain a serious spinal cord injury. Damage to the spinal cord is among the most serious of all types of birth injuries, and depending on the severity of the injury, it can lead to a wide range of health issues, including paralysis, intellectual disabilities, or death. 

Spinal cord injuries are most likely to happen during difficult birth scenarios including rotational stress on the spine during delivery, hyperextension of the head in abnormal birthing positions, and traction on the baby’s trunk during a breech (bottom first) delivery. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or inability to move
  • Spasms or abnormal reflexes
  • Loss of touch sensation
  • Difficulty breathing

Find Birth Injury Attorneys in Baltimore

It can be devastating to learn that your infant may have sustained a birth injury, especially if it was due to medical malpractice or negligence during labor and delivery. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to reach out to a qualified birth injury attorney who can help you understand your options for legal recourse and secure financial compensation. 

At Murphy, Falcon & Murphy in Baltimore, our birth injury lawyers have helped many families navigate this difficult situation. We will fight on your behalf to secure financial damages and to ensure that medical providers are held accountable for their negligence. 

Contact us now to schedule your free initial consultation with our attorneys in Baltimore today.