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What Should I Know About Birth Injuries?

A birth injury is the result of trauma during the birthing process that causes impairment of the infant’s body function or structure. This is distinguishable from a birth defect, which is the result of a genetic abnormality. Another key distinction is that birth injuries are often avoidable.

Fortunately, rates of these events have decreased over the last few decades. Technical and medical advances help medical professionals identify potential problems and intervene safely before an injury occurs. Birth injuries today are often the result of a failure to properly monitor the birthing mother and fetus or improperly using intervention methods.

What are common examples of birth injuries?

Medical professionals note1 the most common area of injury is the infant’s head, neck, and shoulders. Examples of injuries to these areas include:

  • Hemorrhage. Medical professionals can damage the infant’s blood vessels during delivery, potentially leading to a significant and dangerous loss of blood.
  • Nerve damage. The most common damage is to the facial nerve. Infants can experience a loss of movement to the injured side of the face. Spinal cord damage is also possible.
  • Brachial plexus. During child birth, if the baby’s neck is stretched too much, nerve damage to the brachial plexus can result. This can happen when the medical emergency of shoulder dystocia is encountered where one or both of the baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal after delivery of the baby’s head.  Stretching the nerves too much can lead to Erb-Duchenne palsy, Klumpke’s palsy, and even total arm paralysis.
  • Skull fractures. These injuries are often connected to an instrument-assisted vaginal delivery, like those using forceps or vacuum assistance. In serious cases, this can include intracranial injury and neurologic symptoms.

Another common injury is birth asphyxia2, or a lack of oxygen to the fetus during the birth. This can result in temporary or permanent damage to the infant’s brain or major organs.

What if my baby is the victim of a birth injury?

Those who suffer serious injuries and believe the medical team failed to intervene timely or properly can hold that team liable for the injuries through a medical malpractice claim. This is important for three main reasons. First, a successful claim leads to funds to help cover the cost of medical treatment and rehabilitation. Second, it holds that team accountable for their wrongdoing, and third, it discourages other medical professionals to be more careful and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  If you believe you or your baby may have been injured during birth, call Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP at 607-723-9511 to have a conversation about what happened and obtain advice on whether you might have a legal case.


1. Vikramaditya Dumpa, Ranjith Kamity, National Library of Medicine, Birth Trauma, August 29, 2022, .

2. Seattle Children’s Hospital, Birth Asphyxia,, (last visited July 26, 2023).