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What is Erb’s palsy and shoulder dystocia?: Part 1

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This blog will discuss several different birth injuries in five posts in order to explain what is involved in these conditions. In the previous post, excessive newborn jaundice was discussed. The second and third post in the series will discuss brachial palsy, Erb’s Palsy, brachial plexus injuries and shoulder dystocia.

If the bundles of nerves called the brachial plexus are injured during birth, an infant may suffer brachial palsy. This condition results in a weakness or loss of movement in the newborn’s arm. This injury can result from a few different possible causes during a difficult delivery.

The injuries are not always caused by medical malpractice, but in certain cases an obstetrician may not have done enough to prevent a difficult delivery and subsequent birth injury by recognizing certain risk factors or the obstetrician may have put too much pressure on the baby’s nerves during delivery.

During a head-first delivery, brachial plexus injuries can result if the infant’s shoulders are pulled on or if the baby’s head and neck are pulled to the side as the baby’s shoulders pass through the birth canal. During a feet-first delivery (breech delivery) a brachial plexus injury can result if there is too much pressure put on the infants’ raised arms while the infant is passing through the birth canal.

If the baby has paralysis in only the upper arm, it is typically a brachial plexus injury. If the baby cannot use the upper or lower arm, the baby has Erb’s paralysis. If the paralysis is in the hand, the baby could have Klumpke paralysis as well as an eyelid droop on the side opposite the hand issue.

The next post will further discuss these birth injuries.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine, PubMed Health, “Brachial palsy in newborns,” December 11, 2009

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