Understanding the Difference between a Birth Injury and Birth Defect

Medical Malpractice
Birth Defects
Birth injury

By Nathan D. Williams, Staff Writer

Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, being born is a traumatic experience for both baby and mom. All of the contractions and compressions make for a harrowing ordeal, especially for the young one about to enter the world.

While everyone hopes for a smooth delivery, anyone with experience delivering babies knows that “smooth” isn’t really the best word to describe this momentous occasion. Instead, a delivery can be considered “smooth” if both the mom and new baby are in excellent physical shape following the ordeal.

Unfortunately, not all births end up this way.

Generally speaking, around 6-8 of every 1000 births annually in the U.S. sustain some sort of birth injury. According to data from the National Healthcare Quality Report, boys are at a slightly higher risk of birth injury than girls.

Birth defects on the other hand occur in about one in every 33 babies born according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control.

What is the difference between a birth injury and birth defect?

Any new mom will tell you – her sense for detecting issues with her child is quite elevated after giving birth. While many of the symptoms between an injury and birth defect will be similar, the reasons for and the legal implications of these issues can vary widely.

Real brief – a birth injury occurs during the delivery process for any number of reasons. Perhaps the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck and cut off oxygen flow to the brain. Or, perhaps the doctors and nursing staff didn’t order a C-section soon enough and the child’s brain was damaged due to a lack of oxygen. Another common reason for birth injury is when a doctor uses too much force to get the baby out.

While some birth injuries are relatively minor and generally heal within a few days or weeks, some can cause permanent scarring or even disability requiring multiple surgeries to address.

It’s important to note that not all instances of birth injury are the result of negligence on the part of doctors and nurses. Again, due to the risky nature of the process, an injury can occur even to the most experienced professionals.

A birth defect on the other hand develops while the child is still in the womb, or as defined by the CDC, “…major birth defects are conditions present at birth that cause structural changes in one or more parts of the body.” Causes can include genetic abnormalities, infections, or the mother’s actions during pregnancy (i.e. smoking and drinking).

Since birth defects are generally out of the control of doctors and nurses, medical malpractice or negligence is rarely if ever considered a source of the problem.

However, some mothers who were prescribed Zofran for morning sickness have filed suit against the drug’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, alleging negligent marketing and failure to warn pregnant women of the possible risk. The following interview of attorney Kay Van Way provides some insight into the different birth defects blamed on Zofran.  Other drugs that may be responsible for birth defects include Topamax, Accutane and SSRIs, among others.

Although the symptoms of a birth injury or birth defect may be similar in some cases, the legal implications can be miles apart. Identifying the reasons for your child’s difficulties is critical to determining if you have grounds for a legal claim or not.

Also, many problems will not become apparent for weeks or months following birth, which is why you should have a solid understanding of developmental milestones for your child so you can identify any potential issues.

To learn more, we invite you to visit our birth injury page, or search our directory to find an experienced birth injury attorney in your state who can help determine if you have a legitimate malpractice claim against medical staff or a defective product claim against a drug manufacturer. 





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