8 Common Birth Injuries – What Are They, and How Do They Happen?


While it may be one of the most amazing experiences in a parent’s life, giving birth is nonetheless a risky process. Modern medical procedures have fortunately made it much safer and more comfortable, and today the rates of birth injuries and maternal deaths have significantly decreased. Still, nearly 7 out of 1,000 U.S. births each year involve an injury, and we meet the families of these babies every day. No two injuries are exactly the same, but we have observed that many times they fall into similar categories.

Eight of the most common include:

  1. Caput Succedaneum – This term refers to swelling of newborn’s scalp that can occur due to pressure from vaginal walls during prolonged labor or from vacuum extraction.
  2. Forceps marks and bruises – In some cases, the doctor must use forceps to deliver the baby. However, this instrument can leave bruises on the child, and if wielded improperly, it can even cause brain and nerve damage.
  3. Cephalohematoma – Usually due to prolonged labor or use of vacuum extraction, this injury is a hemorrhage between the baby’s skull and brain. It can indicate a skull fracture and also is associated with jaundice, anemia, hypotension, and a higher risk of meningitis and other infections.
  4. Fractures/Broken Bones – During birth, the baby must squeeze through the birth canal, which can put enough pressure on their body to cause fractures. The collar bone is the most commonly injured bone, but the legs and arms can also sustain damage, depending on the position the child is in when they’re passing through the birth canal. Fractures can also be caused after the child is born due to improper handling. Although they are usually easy enough to treat, fractures sometimes go unnoticed by medical professionals, causing more severe problems down the road.
  5. Facial Paralysis – During birth, some children may experience damage to their seventh cranial nerve, also called the facial nerve. This damage can range in severity and cause anything from muscle weakness to full facial paralysis on one side of the infant’s head. Although the cause of this injury is often unknown or hard to pinpoint, it can sometimes be the result of improper use of forceps, prolonged labor, or the baby being particularly large.
  6. Brachial Palsy – Brachial palsy involves paralysis or weakness in a child’s muscles. It occurs in the upper arm and is caused by damage to shoulder nerves. It can be the result of pulling on the infant’s shoulders during delivery or pressure on the shoulders due to breeched delivery.
  7. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage – Blood vessels in the baby’s eyes can break during birth, causing the whites of their eyes to turn partially or completely red. Although startling, the condition should resolve itself naturally. Post birth, subconjunctival hemorrhages may be an indication of trauma such as shaken baby syndrome.
  8. Vacuum Extraction Injuries – Vacuum extraction is often used to speed a particularly difficult or prolonged labor. It involves suctioning the infant’s head to keep them from sliding back between contractions and to help when the mother pushes. However, it can also cause trauma to the infant’s head including potentially significant skull and brain damage.

Of the injuries that do occur, some cannot be avoided, even with the most careful and seasoned professionals tending to the mother and child. However, sometimes a medical error can be the cause of a life-altering and devastating injury to the child and/or the mother, and in this case, the family is due compensation.

If you believe your child has a birth injury due to a medical mistake, then contact an experienced birth injury attorney. Many offer free consultations, and may even have doctors on staff to determine if you have a case. Some attorneys also work on a contingency basis, meaning you don’t pay a dime unless they win your case.

Matthew Casey is a founding partner at Ross Feller Casey, LLP, a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm based in Philadelphia.