Injuries suffered during childbirth can lead to long-term medical complications, permanent disability, or premature death. Birth injuries occur at a significant rate in the United States. All members of the delivery team have a duty of care that includes protecting mother and child from harm. When they negligently perform their duties during childbirth, their actions can have lifelong consequences for the infants they deliver.
Causes of Birth Injuries
There are many causes of birth injuries in the United States. These include improperly monitoring infants for signs of distress and improper application and use of forceps, vacuums, or other tools. Poor training and lack of communication are other common causes of birth injuries.
Birth injuries can lead to hypoxia and deprive the infant of oxygen. Some injuries may reduce blood flow which can damage their brains. Common birth injuries include eclampsia, uterine rupture, kernicterus, placenta previa, placental abruption, and spinal cord damage. In many cases, untreated birth injuries can lead to death even when prompt treatment is applied.
Many injuries such as broken bones and physical deformities are easily recognized. However, injuries to the brain and neurological system, respiratory system, and internal organs may not present immediately recognized symptoms. In up to 14% of cases, birth injuries do not manifest outward symptoms until the child reaches 4-5 years old.
The Rates of Injury & Death
In 2016, the CDC estimated there were 23,161 infant deaths in the United States. This was a rate of 587 for every 100,000 live births.
Roughly 28,000 infants are injured during the delivery process. This equates to approximately 530 each week. For every 1,000 children delivered, it's estimated that 7 suffer a birth injury.
Further, for every 1,000 births, 6 suffer moderate to severe injuries that range from fractured bones to cerebral palsy and Erb-Duchenne palsy. For every 1,000 live births, approximately 4 infants will suffer injuries leading to cerebral palsy. Of those who live with cerebral palsy, approximately 77% have spastic cerebral palsy.
Erb-Duchenne palsy occurs when the infant suffers an injury to their brachial plexus. It is estimated that this affects up to 2 infants out of every 1,000 childbirths. Unlike cerebral palsy, children affected by Erb's palsy may regain motor function through physical therapy and surgery. However, they may be left with lifelong physical deformities including shortened limits and stunted growth.