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Birth Injury Statistics

Knowing the statistics about birth injuries can help you understand medical negligence and malpractice cases. The numbers regarding factors, demographics, and total rates can help you and your attorney develop a better plan of action.

Childbirth injuries involve any internal or external trauma that occurs during birth. These injuries can range from small, localized bruising to nerve and brain injuries and even death.

When you or a loved one is expecting a child, you assume the highest medical standards will be met. But serious injuries can result from medical negligence and lead to permanent damage. When this happens, medical professionals can be held responsible, and you have the right to sue for damages.

While every birth injury case is different, it is important to know the leading causes and factors behind them. Knowing this information can help you and your lawyer develop the right course of action when filing a lawsuit.

Key Childbirth Information

The following are some important numbers to consider from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2020 report on child births:

  • Total number of births: 3,613,647
  • 8.24 percent of births were underweight
  • 10.09 percent of births were preterm
  • 31.8 percent of births were cesarean deliveries
  • Total infant deaths: 19,582

Top causes of infant mortality:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Conditions related to low weight and preterm birth
  • Congenital malformations and deformities

Birth Injury and Medical Negligence

In 2019, the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School compiled various studies about childbirth injuries and their respective insurance claims and lawsuits.

Some important statistics from that report include:

  • 80 percent of claims involved “high severity” injuries with permanent or semipermanent damage to the child
  • 24 percent of birth injury cases result in death for an infant, mother, or both
  • 41 percent of claims involved brain and neurological injury
  • 34 percent of claims involved fetal demise
  • 29 percent of claims involved mothers suffering from future infertility as a result of injury

Per the same compilation of case studies, the four leading reasons for childbirth injury lawsuits are:

  • General negligence during labor
  • Failure to recognize fetal heart complications
  • Inadequate administration of medications such as Pitocin to mother or child
  • Failure to recognize or act in emergency situations

Unfortunately, in many cases, injuries to babies and mothers were considered “potentially avoidable.”

Most Common Birth Injuries

The following are the common birth injuries that result from medical negligence:

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Nerve Damage

When the nerves of a baby’s extremities are damaged due to rough handling and carelessness, a number of serious conditions can occur, such as Brachial plexus palsy and Erb’s palsy.

The long-term effects of untreated Erb’s palsy include permanent and irreversible nerve damage, poor bone growth, abnormal joint mobility, and muscular atrophy.

Though most babies are fortunate enough to fully recover, others can endure lifelong complications.

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Forceps Injuries

Forceps are medical devices that doctors and medical staff may use while delivering a baby. Unfortunately, improper use can cause bruising and lacerations. Mothers can also be injured by the use of forceps during delivery.

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Vacuum Extraction Injuries

When a vacuum is used by medical professionals to assist during childbirth, mishandling the device can cause damage to a baby. One condition, called caput succedaneum, presents itself as swelling throughout the baby’s scalp, including soft tissues.

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Skull Fracture

Also known as cephalohematoma, this condition involves bleeding between the thin layers of a baby’s skull. This can cause blood loss and extreme jaundice in some cases, and last up to three months following birth.

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Bone Injuries

During childbirth, bones may be fractured or broken, particularly in cases in which the delivery is problematic, such as a breech delivery.

When doctors and nurses pull on a baby to release it from the birth canal, its bones are at risk. For example, clavicles are prone to breaking and require immediate medical attention.

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When a baby’s oxygen levels are not monitored, asphyxiation can occur, and the risks of developing cerebral palsy run higher.

Experts report birth injuries are involved in up to 30 percent of cerebral palsy cases.

Birth Injuries and Demographics

A 2017 study in the journal Seminars in Perinatology concluded that demographics play a major role in birth injuries and birth outcomes across the United States. Low birth weight, preterm births, and infant mortality disproportionately affect babies of color and those of low-income parents.

Additionally, a 2020 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that the three leading medical factors for birth injuries that correlate to demographic statistics are low birth weight, preterm births, and a lack of pregnancy-related care.

The following list includes several factors that the Kaiser Family Foundation says can increase the risk of birth injury and play a major role in birth complications for mothers and babies:

  • Education level
  • Geographic location
  • Income inequality
  • Environmental exposure
  • Health-care access
  • Psychosocial stressors
  • Racial and ethnic background

Low-income and minority mothers often lack the resources needed for high-quality medical care. A lack of education often leads to medical disadvantages. Living under the poverty line and in low-income areas is often plagued by exposure to unsanitary conditions and difficulty in receiving good health care.

Additionally, low-income mothers do not have access to the same quality of life as those with higher incomes. Even psychological stressors like racial discrimination, exposure to violence, and anxiety can lead a mother to preterm birth.

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Written by:
Birth Injury Center Team

The Birth Injury Center aims to create informational web content and guides to help women and their families seeking support and guidance for birth injuries caused by medical negligence. All of the content published across The Birth Injury Center website has been thoroughly investigated and approved by medical expert Natalie Speer, RNC-OB, Attorney Ryan Mahoney, and Attorney Rick Meadows.