One of the most common birth injuries occurs when the newborn’s shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s cervix during delivery. Erb’s Palsy is a type of shoulder dystocia injury that causes nerve damage to the shoulder area. This injury frequently occurs when an obstetrician uses excessive force to release a shoulder that is caught in the birth canal behind the mother’s pubic bone. In addition to being painful for the mother, this type of delivery carries the potential for serious complications.
When an obstetrician notices that the shoulders are at risk of being caught, he or she must perform a difficult maneuver to avoid putting pressure on the baby’s shoulder. If the doctor or midwife performs this procedure incorrectly, it can result in Erb’s Palsy if the nerve tissue is stretched, torn, or ruptured. The nerves connecting the shoulder to the arm are known as brachial plexus nerves. They start in the spinal cord, stretch across the shoulder, extend along the arms, and continue to the tips of the fingers. An injury to these nerves can cause the victim to suffer from complete or partial paralysis of the arm.
While any birth can result in a brachial plexus injury, certain situations pose greater risks. If any of the following increased risk factors apply to you, your obstetrician or midwife should take the appropriate steps to avoid such an injury.
High-Risk Factors for Erb’s Palsy and All Forms of Shoulder Dystocia
- Babies expected to be at least eight pounds, 14 ounces at birth
- Gestational diabetes
- Maternal obesity
- Mother’s short stature
- Flat or contracted pelvis
- A pregnancy that has gone on for more than 40 weeks
A skilled, experienced doctor will know how to deal with a shoulder dystocia if it presents during delivery. He or she must support the baby’s head while applying gentle traction in order to dislodge the shoulder without causing serious injury. If the doctor uses excessive traction, the nerves may be irreparably damaged, resulting in Erb’s Palsy. The risk of shoulder dystocia is increased with the use of tools such as forceps, a vacuum, or labor-inducing drugs.
Four Different Types of Erb’s Palsy
Erb’s Palsy can present in many different ways. Some children may have no muscle control or feeling in the entire arm and hand while others can control their arm but not their wrist and hand. Still others may have full use of their hands but cannot control their shoulder or arm. The severity of the injury is dependent on the severity of the damage. There are four categories of Erb’s Palsy injuries. These are:
- Avulsion – the nerve has torn from the spine
- Rupture – the nerve is torn, but not from the spine
- Neuroma – scar tissue has grown around the injured nerve, placing pressure on it
- Neuropraxia – localized nerve damage, which is the most common type of Erb’s Palsy and will often heal within four to six weeks
Carey, Danis & Lowe, Medical Malpractice Lawyers Who Care
If you are concerned that your newborn is suffering from Erb’s Palsy, you should contact a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney immediately. Symptoms of this condition are easy to identify. Typically, the baby’s affected arm will remain immovable by his or her side. If you notice this in your infant, it may be the result of a birth injury. Carey, Danis & Lowe represents victims of medical malpractice, including birth injuries. Having a new baby is supposed to be a joyous time. We understand how emotionally difficult birth injuries can be. To learn more about how we can help, contact Cary, Danis & Lowe today.