What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries?

Birth injuries are often severe and may leave children physically and/or mentally disabled for their entire lives. Patients may need lifelong treatment to manage symptoms in these cases. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of birth injuries in this article.

If your child was left physically and/or mentally disabled from a birth injury, contact a Houston birth injury lawyer for legal advice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about seven birth injuries for every 1,000 children born in the United States. Some of them can be seen immediately by an untrained person, but others may take months or even years to develop. Some are mild and don’t pose associated health or development risks, but others may be severe injuries.

So what are the signs and symptoms of birth injuries? The most common ones include bruising, abrasions, swelling, muscle weakness, excessive fussiness, or unusual eye movements. Severe signs and symptoms include failure to begin breathing immediately after delivery, the infant requiring resuscitation, or limp arms or feet (which may indicate cerebral palsy).

Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries After Delivery

Most birth injuries are immediately apparent. Early signs of birth injuries often include:

  • excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, eating, or suckling
  • arched back while crying (spinal cord injuries and palsy)
  • facial nerve injury and weakness
  • brachial plexus birth injury and other physical injuries
  • high-pitched crying, excessive fussiness, and grunting
  • low oxygen levels and low heart rate
  • muscle weakness, stiff muscles, or looseness (may indicate cerebral palsy)
  • fractures (especially skull bone fractures)
  • weak or absent reflexes (spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy)
  • excessive sensitivity to light
  • poor development of skull bones

Get medical help as soon as possible if any of the previous symptoms are visible immediately after birth. These signs and symptoms are associated with various brain or nerve damage medical conditions, like cerebral palsy.

Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries to Look for 12 to 24-month Olds

Some birth injury symptoms are only visible after the child reaches his or her first birthday. These symptoms become visible only after the child’s nervous system has matured. Typically, children will miss important milestones and may seem underdeveloped for their age. Here’s what to look for:

  • visible delays in speech, or no speech development
  • difficulty and weakness when making basic movements, like eating, drinking, using tools
  • difficulty and weakness when walking or crawling
  • asymmetrical movement, poor arm movement, involuntary movements
  • slow intellectual development, low memory retention disorder
  • lack of or slow bodily movements (ataxia, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy)
  • poor muscle control and muscle spasms (spasticity, cerebral palsy)
  • not turning their head when hearing loud noises
  • unable to sit, walk, crawl, or stand without assistance, risk of falling
  • hearing and/or vision problems

Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the symptoms listed above.

Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries to Look for After Two Years Old

Some birth injury symptoms are only visible after the child enters preschool or elementary school. During this period, the child may display signs of physical and mental delays when compared to their peers. Here’s what to look for:

  • deafness, muteness, or blindness (brain damage and brain injuries)
  • difficulty standing, walking, climbing stairs, or running
  • difficulty when eating, drinking, or dressing
  • problems with fine motor skills, tremors, shakiness (spinal cord injuries, brain damage)
  • neurological development problems, like epilepsy or autism
  • unable to speak or understand complex sentences
  • loss of muscle function, muscle stiffness, motor skills, lack of muscle tone, cranial nerve injuries, involuntary movements
  • excessive susceptibility to infections

What Causes Birth Injuries?

Birth injuries are highly variable and are caused by various medical conditions. For instance, difficult births may lead to injuries, usually because of the baby’s size. Similarly, the baby’s position during labor and delivery may cause birth injuries. Here are some of the medical conditions that may lead to a difficult birth and birth defects:

  • large babies – birth weight over 8 pounds and 13 ounces (4 kilograms)
  • prematurity – babies who are born before 37 weeks and have a lower birth weight – these babies have more fragile bodies and are easily injured during labor or delivery
  • cephalopelvic disproportion – the size of the baby’s head is too large for the mother’s pelvis, making vaginal births challenging
  • shoulder dystocia – difficult deliveries
  • prolonged labor
  • maternal obesity
  • abnormal birthing presentation – the child is delivered in an unusual position (buttocks first)
  • other health risks and various infections (bacterial infections, maternal infection)

What Are the Most Common Types of Birth Injuries?

Here are the most common birth injuries in the United States:

Brachial Palsy and Cerebral Palsy

This type of injury is caused when the group of nerves (brachial plexus nerves) that supplies the arms and hands is injured during labor or delivery. It is very common when the baby’s shoulder is injured during birth; the condition is called dystocia. Babies affected by this injury may lose the ability to rotate and flex their arms. In most cases, recovery is visible after a few months – the movement returns without nerve grafts or nerve transfers. However, if the nerve is ruptured, the nerve damage will be permanent. Special medical care is mandatory in these situations.

Bruising and Forceps Marks

Bruising on the face and head is caused when the baby passes through the birth canal. Also, the baby may be injured by the forceps or during vacuum extraction (sometimes caused by the breathing tube). Scalp bruising and lacerations are common.

Caput Succedaneum

This injury causes significant swelling of the soft tissues. It usually develops as the baby travels through the birth canal. Many babies have visible swelling during the first few days, but the head injury goes away without problems. Babies delivered by vacuum extraction are more likely to suffer from caput succedaneum.


This injury involves bleeding between the skull and its fibrous covering. The injury is visible as a raised lump on the baby’s head. In time, the injury goes away as the blood is absorbed by the body. Most cephalohematomas go away in 1 to 3 months.

Facial Paralysis

The baby’s facial muscles and nerves may suffer damage during delivery. The injury is seen immediately after birth when the baby cries. Sometimes, there is no movement on both sides of the face, or the eyes can’t be closed. The paralysis and injured nerves usually improve after a few weeks. Surgery is needed to restore nerve function in extreme cases. 


The most common fractures occurring during labor or delivery are clavicle and collarbone fractures. Clavicles are prone to fractures because the shoulders are wider than the body. Babies with clavicle or collarbone fractures will not move their arms after birth. Fortunately, healing occurs quickly, without therapy. New bone grows in as little as 10 days, but the baby may suffer from severe pain.

What Should You Do if Your Child Has a Birth Injury?

Contact a doctor if you notice any injury signs or symptoms, as well as developmental delays. Doctors are trained to diagnose birth injuries via physical examinations, like hearing, vision, imaging, or intelligence tests. Getting a proper diagnosis is essential, as it can help you get the appropriate treatment for your child, depending on your child’s symptoms. Treatment options include medication, surgery, and physical and cognitive therapy, depending on the diagnosis and the severity of the symptoms.

Discuss Your Child’s Signs of Birth Injury with a Houston Birth Injury Lawyer

If your child suffers from any of these medical conditions and you suspect birth injury as a cause for them, it’s imperative to know your rights and options. Many people struggle to pay for costly birth injury care and may need help. For most people, a birth injury lawsuit is a solution. Keep in mind that children who are the victims of medical negligence during birth are eligible to pursue financial compensation for supportive treatment, physical therapy, rehabilitative treatments, medical expenses, and pain or suffering. Contact us for a free consultation with an experienced Houston birth injury lawyer.


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