How Birth Injuries Affect the Brain

Baby with Jaundice

A birth injury is one of the most traumatic things any family can experience. A healthy baby injured during delivery is potentially changed forever. While there are many kinds of birth injuries, those affecting the brain are some of the most difficult to accept.

Understanding how birth injuries affect the brain requires an understanding of both the causes and the conditions affecting these injured newborns.


Birth injuries are the result of medical negligence and malpractice. When doctors don’t identify and plan for birth injury risk factors before delivery, a baby’s life can be changed forever. A few of the more common causes of newborn brain injuries include:

High Blood Pressure

Hospital staff must closely monitor the mother’s blood pressure throughout the delivery process. If the mother’s blood pressure gets too high, the baby will be cut off from blood and oxygen or may deliver prematurely.

Delayed C-Section

Oxygen is a constant concern throughout the delivery process. If a baby gets stuck in the birth canal, doctors have two options. They can plan an emergency C-section, or they could try forceps or suction. Each has its own risks.

If a doctor opts for C-Section, they must act quickly. The risk of lasting brain damage increases every minute the baby is trapped in the birth canal. In a few moments, a perfectly healthy baby can asphyxiate and develop cerebral palsy or other cognitive issues.


Forceps are also potentially dangerous. If a doctor applies too much pressure, they could put undue force on the baby’s brain, causing lasting and irreversible damage.

Risks are higher than ever because forceps have fallen out of style. Some obstetrical doctors aren’t trained to use the clamps at all, and those that may not have may not use their skills very often.

Excessive Uterine Activity

Intense contractions can cause serious harm. A baby can literally be beaten in the womb or cut off from oxygen by the force of the mother’s muscles. One cause of such incidents is the drug Pitocin, which causes contractions that are both stronger and closer together.

When a baby is cut off from oxygen, their heart rate slows down. A slower heart rate reduces the baby’s ability to pump blood, putting them at significantly higher risk of neonatal asphyxiation and similar birth injuries affecting the brain.


Babies are at a higher risk of developing jaundice than most people. Their livers aren’t fully developed, meaning that their bodies aren’t yet prepared to recycle blood.

If a baby develops large bruises during birth (from suction-assisted delivery, for example) the blood from that bruise reabsorbs into the body. An underdeveloped liver processing a bruise can cause neonatal jaundice.

If hospital staff fail to notice emerging jaundice, the condition can quickly accelerate to cognitive damage, deafness, and even cerebral palsy.

Types of Injuries

Brain damage is unpredictable. There’s no telling how a few minutes of neonatal asphyxiation will impact a baby’s brain function as they mature. However, the following are a few common results of a birth injury affecting the brain.

Cognitive Impairment

When a baby is cut off from oxygen during birth, the brain does not mature normally. This means that the brain wires new pathways which can affect a child’s ability to make decisions, recall memories, or speak languages, among other issues.

No two cases of cognitive impairment are exactly alike. Two children who experienced the same amount of neonatal asphyxiation could have very different symptoms of cognitive impairment.

Cerebral Palsy

Roughly 1-in-5 people with cerebral palsy developed the condition because of a birth injury. Cerebral palsy always results in a loss of motor control. It’s also usually accompanied by stiff limbs, seizures, and some degree of cognitive impairment.

Cerebral palsy is a chronic, irreversible condition. Children impacted by this ailment will require a lifetime of individualized care and may struggle to establish even a small degree of independence.

Life with a Birth Injury

Children impacted by birth injuries affecting the brain will often need assistance throughout their lives. That might range from special education classes to mobility equipment for children with cerebral palsy.

Specialized care is often expensive and can leave families devastated. That’s why many impacted by this type of medical malpractice hire an attorney to pursue the compensation that will give their child the best possible treatment and the brightest possible future.

If your child suffered a severe birth injury, we will listen. If you’d like an experienced North Carolina birth injury attorney from Daniel, Holoman & Associates LLP to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (866) 380-2281.