Types of Common Birth Injuries

April 25th, 2024

Newborn wrapped in blanket

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


Few health matters are more distressing to a parent than a birth injury. Depending on the type of injury, some combination of surgery, rehabilitation, physical therapy, medication and specialized home care may be needed. Some of the more frequent types of birth injuries include:

  • Shoulder Dystocia: Shoulder dystocia is a dystocia (a difficult birth or labor) where the head of the baby is delivered, but the top of the shoulder of the infant requires manipulation to exit the birth canal, resulting in damage to the brachial nerves.
  • Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy can be caused by a birth injury. Lack of oxygen during birth may increase the chance for the development of cerebral palsy. Because of this, breech presentation and other trauma during birth increase the risk for cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is characterized by inability to control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination of muscle movement, resulting in exaggerated reflexes or rigidity of the limbs, abnormal posture, plasticity, seizures, involuntary movements, scissor walking and/or toe walking, and muscle spasms.

  • Brachial Plexus Injuries: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves at the base of the neck that moves through the shoulder and down the arm and hand.

A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are pulled or torn. During birth, as the baby exits the birth canal, the brachial plexus can be stretched, ruptured or be subject to avulsion injury.

If too much force is used to extricate the baby, by pulling on the shoulder wedged in the birth canal, an avulsion injury may result, with the nerve root being pulled out of the spinal cord.

  • Erb’s Palsy: Erb’s palsy is paralysis of the arm that occurs when there is trauma to the upper group of the brachial plexus.

Often the result of shoulder dystocia, damage to the upper nerves tends to occur when the shoulder is forced down, and the neck stretches up and away from the injured shoulder. Erb’s palsy is frequently the result of a birth injury.

  • Klumpke’s Palsy: Klumpke’s palsy is an injury that involves damage to the brachial plexus at the eighth cervical root or the first thoracic nerve root. It results in paralysis of the muscles of the forearm and hand.

A Knowledgeable Birth Injury Lawyer Can Help

Because these conditions may require additional medical care, rehabilitative care, or in the most serious cases, lifelong care, questions of finances may become pressing for parents of these children.

If your child has suffered any of these birth injuries, you want to speak with an attorney experienced with handling birth injury cases. A birth injury lawyer can go over the facts of your child’s birth and help determine if any of the actions of the doctors or medical professionals may constitute medical malpractice.

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