Families expect that both the mother and new baby will be healthy and happy after labor and delivery. Unfortunately, sometimes the infant or mother experiences significant complications from a birth injury.

These are the answers to the most common questions parents have about birth injury risk and prevention.

What are the most frequent birth injuries?

According to Stanford Children’s Health, common birth injuries affecting the infant include:

  • Clavicle or collarbone fracture
  • Nerve damage to the hands, arms or face
  • Injured blood vessels in the eyes or face
  • Bleeding, bruising and/or swelling of the head

Rarely, babies may experience perinatal asphyxia, characterized by limited blood flow to the tissues or the brain.

Why do birth injuries occur?

A variety of risk factors contribute to birth injuries. The infant and/or mother is more likely to experience an injury when:

  • The mother is overweight or obese.
  • The baby is born prematurely.
  • The baby has a very high birth weight (more than 8 pounds).
  • The mother’s pelvic anatomy makes vaginal delivery difficult.
  • The mother has a very long and/or difficult labor and delivery.
  • The delivery involved assistive devices such as forceps or a vacuum.
  • The mother had a cesarean section.
  • The baby was not in the head-first birthing position.

What happens after a birth injury?

Most birth injuries are minor and resolve with no treatment or minor treatment at the bedside. Severe birth injuries require diverse treatment depending on the extent of disability and damage.

With perinatal asphyxia, the infant may need support for damaged organs, such as a ventilator for breathing. When minor brain damage occurs, he or she may have no lasting effects. Moderate to severe brain injury at birth can result in cerebral palsy, developmental delays and other complications.

Medical treatments for a birth injury can be costly, especially when a child needs lifelong medical support. Families can file a medical malpractice claim when a health care provider’s negligence contributed to the birth injury. In New Jersey, parents can file this type of lawsuit on the minor’s behalf until his or her 13th birthday.