Birth injuries generally refer to physical trauma or damage to a baby that occurs as a result of some event during labor and childbirth. Birth injuries range from minor bumps and bruises to major damage to nerves and the brain.
Nerve and brain injuries during childbirth frequently leave children with permanent physical and mental disabilities. Cerebral palsy and Erb's palsy are just of the many serious medical conditions caused by birth injuries.
The birth injury statistics summarized below clearly indicate that birth injuries are hardly a rare occurrence. Major birth injuries occur every day in hospitals across the country.
- Every year in the U.S. just under 30,000 babies are born with some form of birth injury. This means that a baby is born with a birth injury every 20 minutes.
- Even though we average 500 birth injuries a week, this still only accounts for a relatively small percentage of total births. For every 1,000 babies delivered in the U.S., only about 6.6 of them will be born with a birth injury.
- Looking at that from another angle with slightly different numbers, NIH birth injury statistics tell us that four out of 10,000 spontaneous vaginal deliveries are children with birth injuries.
- Birth injuries are much more common with male babies compared to girls. The injury rate per 1,000 births is over 6.9 for boys compared to 5.1 for girls. The obvious reason is male babies are significantly larger (this makes passing through the birth canal more difficult).
- Only a small percentage of the total reported birth injuries are classified as "minor." Over 80% of all reported birth injuries are classified as "moderate to severe" which includes things like broken bones, brain damage, and nerve damage.
- Infant mortality rates in the United States are approximately 586 for every 100,000 live births. The top three leading causes of infant mortality are congenital malformations, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome.
- Birth injuries account for 20% of all infant fatalities which makes birth injury the 4th leading cause. This means that for every 100,000 babies delivered, approximately 135 of them will die as the result of some form of birth injury.
- The rate of birth injuries in the U.S. has steadily increased each year over the last several decades. So the trend is good. In 2022, doctors and getting smarter and they commit medical malpractice less frequently.
- There is nothing wrong with using a vacuum but it is dangerous and it can lead to brain bleeds. Approximately 59 of 10,000 vacuum-assisted deliveries result in a birth injury.
- Between one and two out of every 1,000 newborn babies have hydrocephalus.
- There are 20,912 infant deaths a year, a stunning statistic.
A review of the statistics for birth injuries as they relate to race, economic status, and geographic location are somewhat surprising. As the statistics below indicate, there does not appear to be any correlation between birth injury rates and race or income level. Birth injury appears to be an equal opportunity tragedy affecting all socio-economic groups at about the same rate. There is, however, a significant difference in birth injury rates based on whether you live in an urban or rural area.
- The rate of birth injuries is essentially the same in the wealthiest locations as it is in the poorest locations in the U.S. The rate of obstetrical injuries to the mother, however, are much higher in wealthy locations compared to poor locations.
- Birth injury rates are somewhat worse (i.e., higher rate) for babies insured by Medicaid compared to injury rates for babies covered by private insurance. However, babies with no insurance at all actually have better birth injury rates than privately insured newborns.
- Asian and Caucasian babies have much higher birth injury rates compared to Hispanic and African American newborns.
- The rate of birth injuries is lowest in large metropolitan areas. The birth injury rate gets higher and higher the farther away you go from large urban areas. Birth injury rates are 33% higher in the most rural areas than in large metropolitan locations.
Although birth injuries can come in almost in shape or form, there are certain types or categories of injuries to a baby that frequently result from trauma during childbirth. Below is a list of the statistically most common types of birth injuries.
- Nerve Damage: the nervous system connects the brain to the body through a network of nerves and channels. These nerve pathways are frequently damaged by certain types of physical trauma that occur when a baby has a difficult passage through the birth canal. The most common type of nerve injury during childbirth is a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus runs through the shoulder and down to the spine. Injury to these nerves is very common when a baby becomes stuck in the birth canal. Birth injuries involving nerve damage can result in a specific medical condition such as Erb's palsy.
- Bone Fractures: difficult vaginal deliveries can often result in fractures to a baby's bones. The most common type of bone fracture during childbirth is a broken clavicle (collarbone). This is because the shoulders are the widest point of the baby and frequently become stuck behind the mother's pelvis (a common condition known as shoulder dystocia).
- Brain Injuries: the human brain requires a constant flow of both blood and oxygen to survive. When the supply of oxygen or blood to the brain is cut off or interrupted, even for a very short time, brain cells can die or become damaged. Once cells in the brain die they do not regenerate. Many childbirth complications can suddenly interrupt blood and oxygen flow to the baby's brain. If these conditions are not quickly and properly resolved major damage to the brain will occur. Birth injuries involving brain damage can result in serious disability and permanent medical conditions such as cerebral palsy.
If your family is one of the tragic birth injuries behind the statistics, you need to seriously weigh your options. Caring for a child with a birth injury can be a serious financial hardship. Miller & Zois can review your case and determine whether your child's birth injury was caused by medical malpractice.