Main Menu

What is a Birth Injury?

A birth injury, sometimes called birth trauma or neonatal birth trauma, is any physical harm caused to a mother or baby as a result of harm during pregnancy, childbirth, or the period after delivery.

Birth injuries can range from mild to severe. Though many will resolve on their own or with minimal medical intervention, some birth injuries can be life-altering for a child or a parent, and they may require long-term medical and financial support. Many birth injuries are preventable with proper medical attention or care, and are caused, or exacerbated by, medical malpractice. Healthcare professionals and hospital systems who are responsible for birth injuries can be held liable for the harm that they caused.

We just want to know what happened.

That is what we hear repeatedly from clients who are dealing with birth injuries. After months of eagerly anticipating the birth of a baby, a birth injury is unexpected and terrifying. It leads to a lot of questions: Is my child going to be ok? How bad is it? How long will this last? What can we do? How will we cope? How did this happen? You look to your doctors, nurses, counselors, and healthcare team for answers, and hopefully you get the guidance and support that you need. However, over and over again, we hear stories of hospitals and healthcare providers who actively avoid the question of how a birth injury happened. Many families come to us desperately looking for answers to their questions, which are being ignored and avoided by their healthcare team. 

By enlisting the help of a birth injury lawyer, injured victims or their loved ones unlock a new set of knowledge and tools to find answers. An experienced birth injury lawyer knows the inner workings of the healthcare industry, is well-versed in your rights as an injured patient, and has the legal skills and strategies to put that knowledge to work for you. At Morris James, our birth injury attorneys help injured victims and their families to investigate their birth injury, find answers, and hold hospitals and healthcare providers accountable for their failings. Contact us online or call us at 302.655.2599 for a free no obligation consultation to find out how we can help you.

A birth injury is not a birth defect.

Birth injuries should not be confused with birth defects. Birth defects usually develop during pregnancy as a result of a genetic condition, abnormality, or other condition. Examples of birth defects would include cleft lip or a heart valve defect. Birth defects are not usually caused by medical malpractice, and most could not be avoided even with proper medical care. However, for some birth defects, the patient’s outcome might be improved with better prenatal care and screening, so you should not be afraid to ask questions of your healthcare team and expect satisfactory answers.

What causes a birth injury?

Some birth injuries occur because the natural process of labor and delivery exerts immense pressure on a baby and mother, especially if the baby is large. This can lead to various types of injuries, such as bruising and swelling in the baby, or first-degree tearing in the mother, both of which usually resolve on their own or with minor medical intervention.

However, many birth injuries that are caused by medical malpractice during delivery are severe and life-altering. These birth injuries should have been avoided, especially with advances in modern medicine. Today, doctors have multiple tools at their disposal to predict and manage complications appropriately, even in a difficult birth. If doctors or other healthcare professionals do not monitor and care for a patient adequately, and cause a birth injury, they may be liable for medical malpractice.

Birth injuries can be caused by:

  • Lack of screening of the mother and baby for problems and risk factors during pregnancy;
  • Failure to schedule a C-section when indicated in pregnancy;
  • Inadequate monitoring of the mother and baby during delivery; 
  • Inappropriate use of forceps or vacuum extractor in a difficult vaginal birth;
  • Failure to convert to a C-section in a prolonged delivery or when otherwise required for the safety of the mother and baby;
  • Inappropriate or mismanaged prescription drugs, such as pitocin, to induce labor;
  • Errors in administering an epidural or other analgesics;
  • Surgical errors in a C-section delivery; 
  • Mismanagement of wound infections from vaginal tearing, episiotomy, or C-section delivery; or 
  • Other treatment that was not indicated for the safe delivery of the baby and protection of the mother. 

Any injury to a mother or baby should be addressed by the healthcare team, with an explanation to the patient or family of how the injury happened and the plan to address the patient’s recovery.

What are the signs or symptoms of a birth injury?

Depending on the type of birth injury, signs or symptoms of the injury may be obvious immediately, or they may not be apparent for weeks, months, or even years. Birth injuries include injuries to both the mother and baby and, unfortunately, include all types of harms.

Signs of a birth injury to a mother might include:

  • Pain, including when passing urine or during sexual intercourse;
  • Incontinence;
  • Fever;
  • Heavy bleeding;
  • Feeling of weight in the vaginal or perineal area;
  • Numbness or “pins and needles” feeling;
  • Severe headaches; or
  • Dizziness or drowsiness.

A birth injury to a baby can be even more difficult to identify because signs and symptoms of a birth injury may mimic typical behaviors of a healthy baby. Even a healthy baby will cry, fuss, and have disrupted sleeping and eating patterns, so it can be hard to distinguish between a baby with or without a birth injury. If you have any concerns about your baby, you should always ask your treating clinician, especially your baby’s pediatrician. 

Early symptoms of a birth injury in a baby might include:

  • Swelling, often on the head;
  • Bruises, scratches, or lacerations;
  • Low Apgar scores;
  • Low heart rate or oxygen levels;
  • Pauses in breathing (apnea);
  • Seizures;
  • Difficulty with feeding or swallowing;
  • Bluish coloring around lips or nail bed;
  • Excessive drooling;
  • Arched back while crying;
  • Excessive crying or fussiness;
  • Lethargy;
  • Hand curled into a claw-like shape;
  • Muscles limpness or stiffness;
  • Appears limp on one side of face or body; or
  • Abnormal vital signs, blood work, or imaging studies.

Some birth injuries are difficult to detect until later in a child’s life and might present symptoms such as:

  • Developmental delays;
  • Problems with sitting, standing, crawling or walking;
  • Vision or hearing difficulties;
  • Delayed speech development;
  • Difficulty with eating, drinking, or using cups and utensils;
  • Intellectual or other cognitive delays;
  • Poor coordination;
  • Lack of bodily movement (ataxia) or muscle control (spasticity); or
  • Involuntary pulling of the neck.

You should discuss any concerns you have about your child’s health or development with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider. 

Common birth injuries to a mother or baby

Tragically, there are many ways in which a mother or baby can be injured at birth.  Some of the more common injuries to a mother, which we discuss in more detail in a related blog post, are:

  • Vaginal and perineal tears;
  • Bladder and bowel lacerations during a C-section;
  • Nerve damage as a result of an epidural, episiotomy, or C-section;
  • Uterine rupture;
  • Surgical adhesions or scarring;
  • Complications from infection;
  • Seizures;
  • Stroke; or
  • Pulmonary embolism (P.E.)

A newborn baby’s body is fragile and complex. A birth injury can have major consequences, including having major effects on other organ systems. Some common birth injuries to babies, as discussed in a recent blog post, include:

  • Lacerations from forceps or during a C-section;
  • Bone fractures due to shoulder dystocia or other forceful delivery techniques;
  • Nerve damage including facial paralysis;
  • Erb's palsy / Brachial plexus injury;
  • Cerebral palsy;
  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) (lack of blood and oxygen to the brain);
  • Brain hemorrhage or hematoma;
  • Cephalohematoma (bleeding under the cranial bone);
  • Spinal cord injuries;
  • Perinatal asphyxia (oxygen deprivation); or
  • Complications from infection.

If you have more questions about birth injuries, our birth injury FAQs may provide more information. 

If you think that you, your child, or your loved one may have suffered a birth injury, our birth injury attorneys at Morris James can help you to investigate your injury and get answers to any questions that you have. If you believe that your birth injury was caused by medical malpractice, we will investigate and will help you to pursue the healthcare providers and/or institutions that were responsible for your injury. We will work to expose their substandard care and obtain compensation for your injuries. Contact one of our birth injury attorneys handling cases across Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania by calling 302.655.2599 or online today.

Back to Page