Birth Trauma Can Lead to a Traumatic Birth Injury

Before they light up our lives with their gummy little grins, babies have to make an entrance into the world. Most are able to do so with no incident. For others, it’s a struggle. Some are victims of birth trauma, which can have lasting physical effects on both mother and child. 

A traumatic birth injury can take a huge emotional and financial toll on a baby’s family. If you believe a doctor’s negligence was to blame for your child’s injury, please contact our expert lawyers. We’re here to listen to your story, and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Mother in tears after traumatic birth.

What is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma refers to a physical injury that an infant experiences during childbirth. Usually the injury affects the baby’s organs and tissues. It can also include the psychological distress that the mother and child go through. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 45% of new mothers report experiencing some type of trauma during delivery. 

Trauma at birth can happen for various reasons, such as:

  • Long or difficult labor
  • The use of medical interventions like forceps or vacuum extraction
  • The baby isn’t in the right position for delivery
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion (when the baby’s head is too big and/or the mother’s pelvis is too small)

Sometimes birth trauma is preventable. It may be the result of a doctor’s or other health care worker’s negligence. Unpreventable or preventable, doctors have a duty to take proper measures to keep the baby and mother from suffering further harm. 

What is a Traumatic Birth Injury?

A traumatic birth injury is a subcategory of birth injuries. Usually it involves excessive physical pressure on a baby’s body. One example of this is when a doctor misuses forceps when delivering a baby.

Examples of physical birth trauma include:

  • Bruising
  • Lacerations
  • Fractures
  • Nerve damage
  • Severe injuries like skull fractures or brain hemorrhages

The term traumatic birth injury can also describe an injury stemming from the overuse of delivery medications. Pitocin and Cytotec are two examples of drugs that aid delivery, but have the potential to cause injuries. 

Here’s why: these medicines can produce intense contractions. When the contractions get too strong or are too frequent, it’s called hyperstimulation. 

Hyperstimulation puts a lot of pressure on the baby’s body. It can also lead to uterine rupture, or even compress the umbilical cord and cut off the baby’s oxygen supply. All of these situations can lead to traumatic birth injuries. 

The definition of PTSD.

Consequences of Birth Trauma

Birth trauma is like dropping a rock in a pond. It has a ripple effect on the baby, the mother, and other family members. It’s an experience that changes everyone involved. 

Prompt attention and appropriate treatment can erase some ill effects. But many babies and mothers do not pull through unscathed. Sometimes the trauma goes beyond temporary bruises or lacerations. The consequences may be long-term or permanent. 

How Birth Trauma Affects Babies

Here are the most common types of birth trauma and traumatic birth injuries in infants:

Soft Tissue Injuries

These injuries involve damage to the baby’s skin, muscles, or other soft tissues. Lacerations, bruises, or swelling can occur due to pressure, traction, or trauma during delivery.

Head and Brain Injuries

Many times the culprit of a head or brain injury is excessive pressure on the baby’s head during delivery.

At the minor end of the scale, the baby could suffer bruising and swelling. One example is caput succedaneum, or swelling on the scalp. 

There’s also a similar condition called cephalohematoma. That’s the term for when blood builds up between the skull bones and the periosteum (tissue that covers the skull).

On the severe end, a difficult delivery can cause skull fractures, bleeding in the brain, and traumatic brain injuries. 

Nerve Damage

During a difficult delivery, doctors might try to pull a baby out (with or without extraction tools). This can stretch, compress, and even tear nerves in the baby’s upper body. 

A Brachial plexus injury is one of the most common birth injuries involving nerve damage. It affects nerves in the neck and arms and can cause Erb’s palsy.

Bone Fractures

Bones, like those in the collarbone or upper arm, may break during delivery. One reason why this might happen is that the baby gets stuck in the birth canal. Doctors can cause fractures if they apply too much force when using tools like forceps or a vacuum.

Oxygen Deprivation

Premature placental separation and other types of birth trauma can cut off a baby’s oxygen supply. Without sufficient oxygen, brain cells can get damaged. This damage can lead to lifelong birth injuries like cerebral palsy.

How Birth Trauma Affects Mothers

When it comes to the mother, a traumatic birth experience can involve intense physical pain and emotional stress during delivery. But she may suffer consequences long after as well. 

Trauma can impact her breastfeeding experience, and even how she relates to her baby. Many mothers develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and require therapy. 

But psychological stress is just the tip of the iceberg. As a result of trauma during childbirth, many women experience:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pubic bone fractures
  • Incontinence
  • Back pain
  • Severe damage to pelvic floor muscles 

It goes without saying that babies get oodles of attention after birth. And the mother? Her needs and health concerns often take a backseat. Unfortunately that means that her injuries may get overlooked. 

In fact, a University of Michigan study found that a large percentage of women had no idea of the severity of their childbirth injuries. 29% had fractures in their pubic bones that they didn’t know about. 41% had undiagnosed tearing and severe damage to their pelvic floor muscles. 

One pervasive problem in postnatal care seems to be to blame for this: the denial of women’s experience. The prevailing attitude in medicine is that it doesn’t matter what a woman goes through, as long as the baby’s healthy. 
But a baby’s health and wellbeing often depends on the mother’s. This is why it’s so important for women to know whether they are at risk for birth trauma. They need doctors to inform them about these risks in advance. And they need doctors to listen when they voice their concerns.

Who is at Risk of a Traumatic Birth Injury?

Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a bunch of warning signs about potholes. Wouldn’t you do everything you can to avoid falling in a pothole? Of course you would. 

Now that’s just a silly example. But many women display huge warning signs that they’re at risk for birth trauma–and doctors ignore them. This sets up a domino chain of events that can only end in harm (and maybe a birth injury lawsuit). 

Risk factors for a traumatic birth injury include:

  • Too much or too little weight gain in pregnancy
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Too little or too much amniotic fluid
  • Gestational diabetes 
  • Macrosomia (baby is too large for gestational age)
  • The fetus is moving less
  • The baby is in an abnormal position at delivery (like breech or shoulder presentation)
A doctor's stethoscope and glasses.

Can Doctors Prevent Birth Trauma?

The best way to prevent a traumatic birth injury is to know the risk factors and adjust prenatal care accordingly. Doctors have a duty to take precautions when a pregnancy is high-risk. 

They should follow the standard of care when problems arise. (Standard of care is the term for actions that any competent doctor should take in a given situation). 

Did your doctor fail to adhere to the standard of care during delivery? Did their actions (or inaction) cause birth trauma and injure your child? We can help. Contact our expert lawyers to find out if you qualify for compensation.