Birth Injury Symptoms

Some birth injury symptoms are immediately identifiable, while others can take years to develop. By knowing the signs to look for and when, parents can best address their child's condition.

Signs Of Injury At Birth

While in the delivery room, parents can become so caught up in the excitement surrounding the birth of their child that they may not be looking for signs that something has gone wrong. Oftentimes, parents begin to re-think what happened during birth only after noticing that something doesn’t seem quite right with the way their child is developing.

If your child has missed any important development milestones or is showing signs of physical or cognitive distress, this may be an indication that brain or nerve damage occurred during the labor process.

There are various warning signs that parents and caregivers can look for in order to detect if an injury occurred at birth – and if someone (such as the medical team or hospital) can be held accountable for negligence.

Birth injuries Explained

A birth injury is any type of brain or nerve damage that occurs before, during or shortly after the birthing process. Birth injuries occur most often while the baby is still in the mother’s womb. These cases can be the result of various things, such as alcohol use or an infection during pregnancy. However, there are a number of birth injury cases that take place in the delivery room — many of which are considered to be preventable.

What Causes Birth Injuries?

A preventable birth injury can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Failure to detect infections during pregnancy
  • Neglecting heart rate monitors or alarms during delivery
  • Not performing a medically advisable C-section
  • Improper use of delivery instruments, such as forceps or vacuum extractors
  • Failure to detect complications with the umbilical cord

There are four basic types of brain damage related to a birth injury, including hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), intracranial hemorrhages, periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) and cerebral dysgenesis. While the exact cause of these various forms of brain damage can differ, they all exhibit similar symptoms that parents should be aware of as their child grows and develops.

Symptoms of A Birth Injury

Some symptoms of a birth injury are immediately recognizable, while others can take months or years to be recognized.

Parents typically have the most intimate knowledge of their children’s health and development and they are an important resource in determining if an injury could have occurred during birth. For this reason, it is important for parents and caregivers to monitor their child’s development from birth through toddlerhood and take careful note of any abnormalities or delays.

Signs To Look For Immediately Following Birth

There are a few signs of a birth injury that present themselves directly after the child is born. While not all of the following symptoms may be a conclusive indication that a birth injury has occurred, they can serve as an important sign that some form of damage may have taken place during delivery.

Symptoms of a birth injury to look for immediately following birth include:

  • Seizures
  • Skull fractures
  • Difficulty suckling, eating or swallowing
  • Arched back while crying
  • High-pitched crying, grunting or overall fussiness
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive drooling
  • Hand curled into a claw-like shape
  • Weak or absent reflexes
  • Muscle stiffness or looseness
  • Erb's palsy

If your child exhibited any of the above symptoms immediately after birth, this may be a warning sign of a condition related to brain or nerve damage, such as cerebral palsy. It is important to address any abnormalities you observe in your child as soon as they come to your attention. This will provide your child with the best chance of receiving the individualized care they need.

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Signs That Develop Between 12-24 Months Old

While some symptoms of a birth injury present themselves immediately after delivery, others may take 1-2 years to fully develop. Symptoms of a birth injury usually become most obvious when children miss important developmental milestones or show physical signs of brain or nerve damage.

Symptoms of a birth injury to look for between 12-24 months of age include:

  • Loss of bodily movements (ataxia)
  • Difficulties walking or crawling
  • Intellectual disabilities, such as low memory retention
  • Involuntary pulling of the neck
  • Lack of muscle control or muscle spasms (spasticity)
  • Delay in speech or no speech development at all
  • Poor coordination
  • Unable to sit, stand, walk or crawl without assistance
  • Difficulties eating or drinking, grasping utensils or cups
  • Doesn’t turn head when hearing loud noises
  • Not bringing objects to mouth
  • Unable to pass small objects from one hand to the other

If you notice that your child is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, this may be a sign of brain or nerve damage that occurred during birth. A further diagnosis related to your child’s condition can come from imaging tests, hearing tests, vision tests and intellectual tests.

Signs That Develop After 2 Years of Age

Not all birth injuries will be recognizable within the first 2 years. Many times, symptoms will only become identifiable once a child enters preschool or elementary school and begin to display an obvious delay in their physical and cognitive development when compared to their peers.

Symptoms to look for after 2 years of age include:

  • Problems with fine motor skills due to jerky reflexes
  • Onset of developmental disabilities, such as autism or epilepsy
  • Inability to speak or comprehend full sentences
  • Difficulties dressing, eating or drinking without assistance
  • Unable to draw straight lines or circles
  • Challenges walking up and down stairs or running
  • Blindness, deafness or muteness
  • Stiff muscles (hypertonia)
  • Tremors or shakiness

If you notice that your child has any of the above symptoms after 2 years of age, consult a specialist who can further determine the state of your child’s condition and the appropriate treatment methods.

Detecting The Symptoms of a Birth Injury

From a child’s first breath to their first day of school, parents will generally have the most interaction with their child and their physical and cognitive progress. Even if symptoms weren’t immediately apparent after delivery, signs of brain or nerve damage can begin to show themselves as the child gets older.

If you are concerned that your child’s cerebral palsy or other related neurological condition is the result of a birth injury, the best way to determine this is by contacting medical professionals who can conduct various tests in order to form a diagnosis.

Detecting the symptoms of a birth injury are not always easy and this process ultimately requires the expertise of a neurologist or brain injury specialist. They will be able to use test results and observational analysis to determine if and when any brain or nerve damage occurred, and the best steps to take to ensure that your child lives a happy, healthy life.

Filing a birth injury lawsuit can open the doors to receiving valuable financial assistance for your child’s treatments. If you suspect that your child’s cerebral palsy is due to medical negligence, contact our legal team today for a free case review.

Birth Injury Support Team

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

View Sources
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Retrieved on June 27, 2016, from:
  2. Sokolove (2016). Birth Injury Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved on June 27, 2016, from:
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