Patient Safety

Patient Safety Is No Accident When it Comes to Birth Injuries

The term “birth injury” can frighten expectant parents, and rightly so. Many young parents are not aware of the wide variety of birth injuries that can occur. It is important that they educate themselves about birth injuries in general and about things they can do to help keep their unborn babies safe until they enter the world.

Information About Common Birth Injuries

The most frequent serious birth injuries include:

  • Brachial plexus injury, a stretching of the nerves that connect the neck and arm. This type of birth injury is usually the result of a baby’s head being pulled one way and an arm another way during birth, resulting in weakness in the affected arm that is sometimes called Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy. The condition may resolve itself or may require surgery. It is often permanent. Shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the shoulder is trapped under the pelvic bone, can result in Erb’s palsy.
  • Perinatal asphyxia, which can result from insufficient oxygen in the blood or insufficient blood flow to the fetus or newborn. It can cause labored breathing and pale skin that resolves itself soon after birth, or it can result in significant permanent brain damage.
  • Brain hemorrhage, or bleeding in the skull
  • Cerebral palsy, which is characterized by muscle spasms, weak muscles and lack of motor skills caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. It is usually a permanent condition.
  • Spinal cord injuries, often caused by the incorrect use of forceps

Other common, but usually less serious birth injuries include broken bones; facial paralysis; caput succedaneum, which is a swelling of the soft tissue in the baby’s scalp; cephalohematoma, a bleeding of the covering between the scalp and the skin, which can take from a few weeks to several months to disappear; bruising and forceps or vacuum extractor marks; jaundice, or yellowing of the skin because of liver problems; eye bleeding, also called subconjunctival hemorrhage, which generally resolves itself a few days after birth.

What parents can do to prevent birth injury

Although no one can completely eliminate the risk of giving birth to a baby who suffered an injury, parents can reduce the risk by:

  • Carefully researching doctors and hospitals for patient safety ratings. These can be found at websites such as and
  • Finding out if your practitioner is board certified. Go to the American Board of Medical Specialties web site at
  • Staying healthy during pregnancy, eating right, exercising and taking any recommended vitamins
  • Moving around during labor
  • Having a knowledgeable labor partner or coach who can be your advocate
  • Attending childbirth education classes
  • Learning about parental rights and informed consent
  • Talking with your provider to understand his or her philosophy and approach. You don’t want surprises while in labor.

The chances that your baby will be born with a birth injury are slim. However, if despite all your efforts something goes wrong and your child is injured, you may wish to obtain information about your legal options. A knowledgeable birth injury lawyer can advise you.

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