Birth injuries can be tragic for parents and leave a child with permanent injuries or mental disabilities. Unfortunately, many birth injuries can be avoided or have improved outcomes. Instead, medical errors, lack of proper care, or professional negligence can be the cause of many birth injuries in the United States. It is surprising for many people to learn how common birth injury accidents occur across the country.
National Birth Injury Statistics
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were almost 3.8 million live births in 2018. More than 10% of babies were delivered preterm and over 8% had a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds. The number of infant deaths was more than 21,000. The primary cause of infant deaths included:
- Congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal abnormalities
- Disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight
- Maternal complications of pregnancy
These numbers do not give us birth injuries but include numbers that can be partially attributed to birth injuries, including preventable infant deaths, deformations, and birth complications. With proper care, testing, and patient communication, many of these deaths, low birth weights, and preterm deliveries can be avoided.
More Than 157,000 Avoidable Birth Injuries
A brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that there were nearly 157,700 potentially avoidable injuries to mothers and newborns during childbirth. The majority of these injuries involved trauma during vaginal births using delivery instruments like forceps or vacuum suction. This occurred in 160.5 deliveries out of every 1,000 instrument-assisted births. Obstetric trauma for deliveries without an instrument were much lower at 36.2 per 1,000 births. Birth trauma to the newborn occurred in approximately 1.6 out of 1,000 births.
Maternal Mortality Rates
Mothers also face a serious risk of injury caused by medical errors during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum care. Injuries to the mother can have a direct impact on the health of the baby, including causing birth injuries or infant death.
- Infection or sepsis
- Amniotic fluid embolism
- Thrombotic pulmonary or other embolism
- Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy
- Anesthesia complications
- Cerebrovascular accidents
- Other cardiovascular conditions
- Other noncardiovascular medical conditions
Pennsylvania Birth Injury Statistics
In Pennsylvania, there were 135,677 live births in 2018. The infant mortality rate was 5.9 per 1,000 live births. Infant death is defined as death occurring before the age of one.
In 2018, the incidence of low birth weight was 8.3%. Low birth weight is defined as weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 grams). About 9.5% of infants were delivered premature, prior to 37 weeks of gestation.
The infant mortality rate in Pennsylvania is higher than national statistics. In 2017, the U.S. rate of infant mortality was 5.8 per 1,000 compared to 6.1 per 1,000 in Pennsylvania.
Maryland Birth Injury Statistics
In Maryland, there were 71,037 live births in 2018. The neonatal death rate was 4.2 per 1,000 births and the infant mortality rate was 6.1 per 1,000 live births. Neonatal death is death occurring under 28 days after birth. Infant death is defined as death occurring before the age of one.
In 2018, the incidence of low birth weight was 8.9%. Low birth weight is defined as weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 grams). More than 10% of infants were delivered premature, prior to 37 weeks of gestation.
The infant mortality rate in Maryland is higher than national statistics. In 2017, the U.S. rate of infant mortality was 5.8 per 1,000 compared to 6.5 per 1,000 in Maryland.
Washington D.C. Birth Injury Statistics
In Washington, D.C., the infant mortality rate is higher than the national average at 7.8 per 1,000 live births compared to the U.S. average of 5.8 per 1,000 live births.
In 2017, the incidence of low birth weight was 10.5%. Low birth weight is defined as weighing less than 5.5 pounds (2,500 grams). About 10.6% of infants were delivered premature, prior to 37 weeks of gestation.
Birth Injury Statistics in Other Countries
The United States is one of the richest and most advanced countries in the world. We have some of the best healthcare, top doctors, top medical facilities, and spend more on healthcare than other developed countries. Unfortunately, many patients still receive substandard care during labor and perinatal support. How is it possible that so many patients in America can still face birth injury and death caused by medical negligence?
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook, the infant mortality rate compares the number of deaths of infants under one year old in a given year. While this is not a strict comparison of birth injuries, it is often used as an indicator of health. The following is a comparison of infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in 2017 for some developed countries:
- Japan – 2.0
- Iceland – 2.1
- Norway – 2.5
- Finland – 2.5
- Sweden – 2.6
- Czech Republic – 2.6
- South Korea – 3.0
- France – 3.2
- Spain – 3.3
- Italy – 3.3
- Belgium – 3.4
- Germany – 3.4
- Netherland – 3.6
- Ireland – 3.6
- Lithuania – 3.8
- Denmark – 4.0
- Portugal – 4.3
- Taiwan – 4.3
- United Kingdom – 4.3
- Australia – 4.3
- New Zealand – 4.4
- Poland – 4.4
- Canada – 4.5
- Latvia – 5.2
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – 5.5
- United States – 5.8
The World Health Organization (WHO) has data for deaths per 1,000 live births caused by birth asphyxia and birth trauma. The highest rate of deaths caused by asphyxia or trauma was in Somalia with 15.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. The United States and a number of other countries had a death rate by asphyxia and birth trauma much lower, at 0.3 deaths. This means that for every 10,000 live births in the U.S., about 3 children will die because of birth asphyxia or birth trauma.
Most Common Birth Injuries
There are a number of types of birth injuries ranging from minor and temporary injuries to permanent and debilitating. Some common birth injuries include:
- Swelling and bruising of the scalp
- Scalp trauma
- Subgaleal hemorrhage
- Skull fracture
- Epidural hemorrhage
- Subdural hemorrhage
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage
- Intraparenchymal hemorrhage
- Intraventricular hemorrhage
- Facial nerve injury
- Brachial plexus injury (shoulder dystocia)
- Phrenic nerve injury
- Spinal cord trauma
- Spinal cord hemorrhage
- Fractured clavicle
- Arm fracture
- Leg fracture
Lack of Oxygen or Perinatal Asphyxia
- Umbilical cord obstruction
- Placental abruption
- Abnormal fetal development
- Maternal hemorrhage
Causes of Birth Injuries
Causes of birth injury can also involve a number of factors. This can involve genetic problems that the mother or father have and may not be aware of, maternal health conditions, problems that develop early in the pregnancy, during labor, or even after delivery. Some of the complications or causes of birth injury include:
- Large babies (over 8 pounds, 13 ounces)
- Premature delivery
- Cephalopelvic disproportion
- Dystocia or difficult labor
- Prolonged labor
- Abnormal birthing presentation
- Maternal obesity
- Improper medication
- Improper pain treatment
- Medical negligence
- Failure to order certain tests
- Diagnostic errors
- Delayed treatment
- Delayed C-section
- Patient mix-ups
- Medical errors
Trends in Birth Injury Statistics
The number of birth injuries has improved over the years but continues at a level that is higher than it should be. In 2004, birth trauma occurred in 2.6 per 1,000 live births and fell to 1.9 per 1,000 live births in 2012. One of the reasons for the reduction in birth trauma is the reduction in the use of forceps and vacuum-assisted deliveries.
Financial Consequences of a Birth Injury
The financial costs of living with a birth injury depend on a number of factors, including the extent of the disability or injury, level of care required for the future, and estimated lifespan of the injury victim.
For example, cerebral palsy is a disorder that is caused by injury to the brain, often before birth or in labor. Cerebral palsy can be caused by a number of complications during pregnancy or birth, including lack of oxygen during the birth process caused by delayed emergency delivery.
Cerebral palsy affects motor skills and movement control and may require lifetime care. Nearly 10,000 babies born each year will develop cerebral palsy and live with the condition for the rest of their life.
The CDC estimates the average cost for persons with cerebral palsy in 2003 was $921,000. Adjusted for inflation, in 2020, the estimated lifetime costs for a person with cerebral palsy would be more than $1.3 million.
Birth Injury Attorneys
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate birth injury accidents caused by medical errors or negligence. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our families across the country recover millions of dollars in compensation related to birth injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.