Study Reveals Birth Injuries as Most Common Cause of Developmental Delays

According to in-depth research and ongoing studies by a series of medical researchers and doctors, birth injuries are the most common cause of developmental delays.

Per Viola M. Frymann D.O., F.A.A.O., F.C.A., at least 80% of all children who live with attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism experienced some sort of birth injury.  The most common injuries occurred during the labor and delivery period, a time in which the nervous system can be severely damaged.  Injuries during this period often lead to cognitive and psychological problems.

Birth Injuries that Lead to Developmental Delays

Injuries that happen during labor and delivery that could be a cause of developmental delays include:

  • Forceps and vacuum extraction injuries
  • Injuries due to improper epidural administration
  • Uterine inertia 
  • Umbilical cord issues, such as a nuchal cord or cord prolapse
  • Performing a C-section too late
  • Medications used during labor
  • Extremely long or extremely short labor
  • Failure of physicians to monitor an infant who has a slow heart rate
  • Neonatal anemia
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome
  • Maternal hemorrhaging
  • Pulled too roughly out of the birth canal
  • Abnormal fetal presentation
  • Shoulder dystocia

Another study performed by the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine concluded that oxygen deprivation during and shortly after delivery may also be a cause of Autism.

“Reduced oxygen supply during labor, during delivery, during the prenatal period, during early infancy, could influence autism risk. We can’t say that definitely from our study, but that certainly is one possibility.”

Signs of Nervous System Damage

If the nervous system is damaged, infants typically exhibit common signs within 24-48 hours afterwards.  Some of the common signs of an injury include:

  • Feeding difficulties, such as spitting up or vomiting after being fed
  • Excessive crying marked with the failure to console the baby
  • Arched back marked when the infant is held on placed on his/her side
  • Abnormal movements in the legs and/or arms
  • Weak or absent cry
  • Seizure activity
  • Partial or complete paralysis 

Physical developmental delays will occur when the child fails to meet milestones, including rolling, crawling, sitting up, pulling up and holding onto furniture, and walking.  As the child enters school, parents may notice for the first time that behavioral and cognitive problems exist. Although, in some cases these problems may have been detected earlier.


One of the most common developmental and cognitive disorders that children suffer from is ADHD. Common signs of ADHD include:

  • Easily and constantly distracted and/or bored
  • Easily angered and frustrated
  • Difficulties in staying on one task without losing interest or moving around
  • Inappropriate running around or climbing, difficult to keep up with “always on the go”
  • Easily losing or forgetting things, such as books and school supplies
  • Interruption or intrusion of others
  • High impulsivity
  • Forgets to follow directions or forgets what the directions are
  • Difficulty playing quietly, excessive talking
  • Excessive fidgetiness, difficulty remaining seated
  • Decreased body awareness
  • Prone to accidents
  • Sleep issues

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a wide-spectrum disorder, meaning it can be extremely mild, extremely severe or anywhere in between.  No two children will have the same exact same presentation.  A child with mild Autism may exhibit signs such as:

  • Difficulty socializing with other children
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Frequent behavioral/emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty showing empathy towards others
  • Flat innotations
  • Hyperfocus on things of interest
  • Repetitive behaviors

In more severe cases of Autism, children may exhibit symptoms and signs such as:

  • Not talking at all or only babbling (past the age of three)
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Unable to engage in make-believe and pretend play by at least two years of age
  • Repeating words or phrases over and over
  • Difficulty pointing or using body language
  • Difficulty being comforted when scared, sick, or distressed
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, taste, smell, look or feel
  • Delayed language development
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self injurious (self harm)

Keep in mind that the aforementioned signs and symptoms should never take the place of an official diagnosis. If you suspect your child may have developmental delays due to a birth injury, consult with your physician.

Maia Watkins

Page Medically Reviewed By Maia McSwiggan, MS, OTR/L

Maia McSwiggan, MS, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist with experience in the clinical and hospital settings. Maia has extensive experience working with children. She is a regular medical reviewer for Birth Injury Guide.

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Written By BIG Staff

The team at Birth Injury Guide is comprised of lawyers, doctors, nurses and professional writers. We strive to provide up-to-date content that is accurate and relevant to the needs of families affected by birth injuries.