A birth injury is an adverse effect that occurs during your labor or delivery, sometimes due to a mistake by a member of your health care team. While some define a birth injury specifically as impairment of your newborn baby’s function, adverse events during birth can also have a negative effect on you.

Birth injuries can be devastating when they do occur. Fortunately, over the last few decades, the rates of birth trauma have seen a steady decline. According to StatPearls, in 2012 there were 1.9 birth injuries per 1,000 live births in the United States. This was a decrease from 2004 when the rate was 2.6 injuries for every 1,000 live births.

Decline in instrumental deliveries

An instrumental delivery occurs when your doctor uses some kind of device to pull the baby out as you push. This method uses one of two types of instruments. Forceps resemble a pair of very large tweezers. The doctor uses these to hold onto the baby’s head and guide him or her out of the birth canal. Vacuum-assisted delivery involves pulling the baby out by applying suction to the head.

While often performed without incident, instrumental deliveries can cause head trauma to your baby. Due to the risks involved, the past three decades have seen a decline in the rates of instrumental deliveries.

Increase in cesarean deliveries

A cesarean delivery involves an incision into the abdomen through the wall of the uterus to create an opening large enough to reach in and pull the baby out, bypassing the birth canal. As with all surgical procedures, there is a risk of complications, which may account for previous low rates of utilization. However, a cesarean section may avoid unnecessary trauma to both you and your baby in a case of a difficult vaginal delivery due to shoulder dystocia or other complications. In cases such as these, the prevalence of cesarean delivery has increased, which may help to explain lower rates of birth injuries.