How to Diagnose a Birth Injury

Birth injuries can be difficult for parents to diagnose. If a birth injury is suspected, parents should seek the assistance of medical professionals, as professional diagnostic screen tests can be used to confirm or refute the existence of birth injuries. However, it can be helpful for parents to understand some tips about how to diagnose a birth injury so that the proper testing can be ordered.

Visual Birth Injury Diagnosis

Immediately after a baby is born, parents should check the baby over carefully for any abnormalities. There are many marks and abrasions that commonly appear on a baby’s head, face, and body that may be alarming to parents but are actually common and not signs of a birth injury. Some of these common marks and abrasions include marks from forceps, a red rash resembling insect bites, pink markings on the eyelids or upper lip, and milia bumps that resemble pimples on the chin and nose.

Visual signs that may indicate a birth injury include:

  • Swelling on the top of the head
  • Facial distortions or disfigurements
  • Unusual spine shape
  • Larger than normal forehead
  • Extreme paleness or jaundice
  • Obvious bone fractures, bruises, or lacerations

Behavioral Birth Injury Indicators

There are different behavioral clues that may help parents and physicians to diagnose a possible birth injury. Behaviors that may indicate a birth injury include excessive crying, avoidance of food due to difficulties sucking or swallowing, and extreme lethargy. Motor control issues may also be present and may be more noticeable as the baby misses developmental milestones. Inability to hold the head up, sit up, grasp objects, and eventually crawl and walk may help parents to spot possible birth injuries.

When the child reaches school age, cognitive deficiencies that are a result of birth injuries may be more noticeable. An inability to pay attention or receive instruction can sometimes indicate conditions such as ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, or autism. Physicians can use reflex tests and other screen tests to more accurately diagnose birth injuries and resulting conditions if parents voice concerns.

Birth Injury Risk Factors

There are many factors that may increase the risks of birth injuries. When these factors are present, parents should be particularly alert for birth injuries and should make doctors aware of the increased risk during check-ups. Knowing that there is an increased risk of birth injuries can sometimes be the difference between receiving an early diagnosis and a delayed diagnosis, which can be a distinguishing factor in the effectiveness of treatment.

Factors that may increase the risk of birth injuries include:

  • First birth for mother
  • Maternal obesity
  • Low birth weight
  • High birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Pregnancy that lasts more than 42 weeks
  • Rapid labor
  • Labor than lasts more than 24 hours
  • Abnormal presentation during birth
  • Less amniotic fluid than normal
  • Infant’s head large than mother’s pelvis
  • Use of forceps or vacuum extractor

Diagnostic Testing for Birth Injuries

General assessments are typically a doctor’s first type of diagnostic testing for birth injuries. If there is cause for concern that birth injuries may be present based on the general assessment or the parent’s observations, scan tests such as MRIs, EEGs, PET scans, and CT scans may be done to spot abnormalities in the brain, soft tissue, or nerves of the baby’s body. Tissue and blood samples may also be used to spot abnormal chemical levels that can indicate birth defects or other complications that rule out birth injuries.

Improvements in Birth Injury Diagnosis

An increase in awareness of conditions that may be caused by birth injuries, such as autism and cerebral palsy, is helping physicians diagnose these conditions earlier and more accurately. The stigma surrounding these conditions is gradually beginning to dissipate, leaving parents and physicians more open to accepting these types of diagnoses and being alert for indications of these conditions than in the past. Improvements in obstetric procedures have also decreased the prevalence of birth injuries. Although controversial, an increase in the use of cesarean delivery has also helped to lower the risk of birth trauma and resulting birth injuries.




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McKee-Garrett, Tiffany. “Neonatal Birth Injuries.” Up To Date. Wolters Kluwer Health, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <>

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