The causes and effects of birth injuries

16th December 2021

The causes and effects of birth injuries

Jyoti Chohan, Litigation Executive in our Clinical Negligence team, examines birth injuries, how they can happen, their impacts and how Higgs LLP can assist if any negligence has occurred.

What is birth injury?

Sometimes a baby may suffer an injury whilst being born or soon afterwards.  Fortunately, the risk of injury is low. However, when it happens it can have lifelong consequences for a child and their family.  Two of the most serious birth injuries are cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain that affects a child’s ability to control his or her muscles.  There are several possible causes of the abnormal development or damage and not all are related to birth injury.

The abnormal development of the brain or damage that leads to cerebral palsy can happen before birth, during birth or during the first years of a child’s life, while the brain is still developing.

Hypoxia is the medical term for oxygen deprivation or loss.  Low oxygen levels in certain areas of the brain can lead to cerebral palsy, and sometimes hypoxia during labour and delivery may also lead to cerebral palsy.

Another common cause of cerebral palsy is bleeding in the brain.  When babies suffer traumatic injuries due to negligent use of forceps, vacuum extractors, or other surgical instruments, the resulting bleeding in the brain can cause permanent damage and lifelong complications including cerebral palsy.  Other common risk factors for the development of cerebral palsy include:

  • Infection during pregnancy
  • Raised temperatures during pregnancy
  • Severe cases of hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice
  • Maternal substance abuse and alcohol consumption
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • A mother who has already had several children
  • Blood type incompatibility
  • Complicated labour and/or delivery
  • Premature births and low birth weight
  • Injury during labour, delivery, or during the first few months of infancy
  • Brain damage of any type, from any source

Erb’s Palsy

Another possible risk at birth is Erb’s palsy, although the condition can occur in both infants and adults whenever a traumatic force is applied downward on the upper arm and shoulder, damaging the brachial plexus. 

This occurs sometimes in infants due to injuries to nerves during childbirth and is characterised by paralysis, weakness, or loss of movement of the arm at birth.  The condition improves or completely goes away for most infants, but some have permanent complications.

It is also sometimes called brachial plexus palsy, after the name of the bundle of nerves damaged. This network of nerves runs from the spine, through the bones of the neck, down either side and out to the arm. These nerves allow the arm, hand, and fingers to move and give them sensation.  The nerves that run lower provide movement and sensation to the hands and fingers, and those that are higher go to the shoulder.

Erb’s palsy typically affects both the lower and upper arm.  Some injuries that occur higher up in the brachial plexus only affect the upper arm and shoulder, while those occurring lower down affect the hand. The signs of damage or injury include a lack of reflexes on the affected side, no movement in the arm or a part of the arm, minimal grip strength in the affected hand, and an arm bent at the elbow and held tightly to the side of the infant. 

If somehow the condition is not detected until later, the child may experience weakness, loss of feeling, or partial or total paralysis in the arm.

Higgs LLP

As part of a holistic approach at Higgs LLP, we are committed to supporting clients and families who have suffered a birth injury, as well as progressing any compensation claim as a result of any negligence which may have occurred. 

If you or someone you know have suffered any sort of injury at birth, please contact our team for expert legal advice and guidance and we can assist you in bringing a compensation claim. I’m available on 01384 327378 or


Other news

Contact us

3 Waterfront Business Park
Brierley Hill
West Midlands, DY5 1LX

Call Us: 0345 111 5050


Keep up to date with all the latest here.

Higgs LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority number 819589.