When are Traumatic Birth Injuries Medical Negligence?


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Most babies in the United States are born without any physical injuries, though there is always a chance that there will be complications with delivery. It’s estimated that about 2.9 percent of babies in the U.S. go through some type of birth trauma, often because of the misuse of delivery instruments or the improper handling of delivery by doctors, midwives, or other medical professionals.

What Are the Causes of Birth Trauma?

In general, birth trauma refers to any lacerations, broken bones, or other injuries that a newborn sustains during childbirth. Birth trauma tends to occur more frequently in babies that are bigger than average, especially when the baby is too large for the mother’s pelvic area. Large newborns often have to be handled more and many times require the use of delivery instruments like forceps or a vacuum extractor. If too much force is used during these situations, either by a medical professional or with the instruments, injuries can easily occur.

Some of the most common risk factors that may result in birth trauma include:

  • Babies born prior to 37 weeks
  • Babies weighing over 8 pounds, 13 ounces
  • Prolonged labor
  • Abnormal presentation (breech position)
  • Abnormal shape of the mother’s pelvis
  • Labor that advances too quickly
  • Babies whose heads are too large for the mother’s birth canal
  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Misuse of delivery instruments

What Are the Most Common Types of Traumatic Birth Injuries?

Typically, traumatic birth injuries occur to the baby’s neck, head, and shoulders, because babies are usually born head first. However, that doesn’t mean that injuries can’t happen to other body parts as well.

The traumatic birth injuries that are seen most commonly are:

Bruising and Broken Bones

It isn’t unusual for newborns to have some bruising due to the physical stress that occurs as the baby passes through the birth canal or comes into contact with the bones and tissue of the pelvis of the mother. When delivery instruments like forceps or vacuum extractors are used, bruises may be left on the baby’s face or head.

Fractured bones are the most common traumatic birth injury and they can also occur due to the use (or misuse) of delivery instruments or when a newborn is handled roughly or pulled too forcefully during delivery.

Caput Succedaneum

Caput succedaneum is an injury in which the scalp swells during or just following birth. It can be caused by the pressure from the uterus or birth canal during delivery. It’s more likely to occur when labor is prolonged, especially if the amniotic sac breaks and the baby’s head isn’t protected as it moves through the birth canal.

Caput succedaneum can also be the result of the use of vacuum extractors during delivery – used properly or improperly.


Cephalohematoma occurs when there is a buildup of blood under the protective membrane that covers the skull. In newborns, it shows up as lumps on the head that typically occur a few hours after delivery. Most of the time, cephalohematomas don’t require any additional medical intervention and they go away on their own.

Brachial Plexus Injury

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that connects the spinal cord to the arms and hands. Brachial plexus injuries can happen when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal and the doctor pulls forcefully on one arm to dislodge the infant. The degree to which the brachial plexus is injured can vary depending on how damaged the nerves are – sometimes creating an injury that will heal on its own over time, but in severe cases resulting in permanent nerve damage.

Lack of Oxygen

Oxygen deprivation, called anoxia, during labor or delivery can result in serious health consequences for newborns. There are numerous ways that oxygen can be restricted to a baby’s brain, including when the placenta separates prematurely or if there are complications with the umbilical cord (twisting, pinching, or if it becomes wrapped around the baby’s neck).

Not having enough oxygen reaching the brain can cause severe and long-lasting medical conditions including cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects the baby’s ability to control posture, movement, and muscle tone.  

When Birth Trauma is Caused by Medical Malpractice

Many birth traumas are not serious and will heal on their own without medical attention. Babies who suffer minor injuries usually recover fully with no complications. However, there are situations in which traumatic birth injuries are severe and could have been prevented if it weren’t for medical mistakes or negligence.

When a baby is injured during a traumatic birth, those injuries can last a lifetime. When the injury was avoidable, parents of the child may have a medical malpractice case against the medical professional who is responsible. If you believe this describes your family, Ross Feller Casey can help.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have a team of Ivy League educated physicians on our staff who are available to consult on birth injury cases. They have the knowledge and training to carefully review medical records and determine if there was negligence involved. We also have an unmatched history of winning financial recoveries for families who have suffered the emotional, medical, and financial consequences of a traumatic birth.

Let Ross Feller Casey help with your birth injury claim. Contact our offices today to schedule your free case review.

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