If a doctor or other medical care provider tugs or pulls on a baby’s arm with too much force during delivery, it can damage the nerves that connect the upper arm to the spinal cord, causing Erb’s palsy. This type of birth injury almost always resolves with treatment, but some children require surgery. Rarely, children have lasting disabilities as a result of this type of nerve damage.
Erb’s palsy is the most common type of brachial plexus injury, and generally the least severe. Other types of brachial plexus birth injuries can also occur as a result of forceful pulling on one of the baby’s arms during childbirth. A birth injury lawyer can fight for the justice you and your child deserve after diagnosis of a condition like Erb’s palsy. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at 1-800-222-9529.
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Improper Techniques When Delivering a Baby Can Lead to Birth Injury
Erb’s palsy occurs because of damage—ranging from bruising to complete tears—of the nerves that connect the upper arm with the spinal cord. Most commonly, this damage occurs at Erb’s point, at the top of the brachial plexus where the fifth and sixth cranial nerves meet.
If the baby enters the birth canal at an awkward angle, it is possible for the head to turn one direction while the doctor forcefully pulls on the arm in the other direction. This puts undue stress on the baby’s arm, shoulder, and neck, and injuries. This kind of forceful arm pulling during birth can lead to Erb’s Palsy. Stress of this nature is sometimes called “excessive lateral traction.”
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Risk Factors for Erb’s Palsy
Erb’s palsy is common when the baby presents with an unusual delivery, or there is cephalo-pelvic disproportion (CPD). CPD is a preventable complication that occurs when the newborn is much larger than the birth canal. Doctors who monitor patients and their babies closely should be able to predict CPD and order a Caesarean section (C-section).
Babies whose shoulders get stuck during birth, called shoulder dystocia, is the most common risk factor for Erb’s palsy. Other risk factors that may contribute to this type of injury include:
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extraction tools during delivery
- Large infant size, sometimes because of maternal gestational diabetes
- Small maternal size
- Long, difficult labor and delivery
Any time there are factors that make it more difficult for the infant to pass through the birth canal, the chances for improper or forceful arm pulling increase.
How to Know If Your Child Has Erb’s Palsy or Another Brachial Plexus Injury
You may not know immediately if your doctor used an improper technique or force during your child’s delivery, but symptoms of brachial plexus injuries, including Erb’s palsy, are usually immediately evident. This may include:
- Full paralysis or weakness in the affected arm
- Lack of sensation in the upper arm
- A weakened grip in the hand
- The arm extended or bent and held close to the body
While the symptoms may be visible immediately after birth, diagnosis can be difficult in some cases. This is because symptoms are similar to other conditions, including collarbone fractures that can occur in the same way.
To diagnose the newborn, the doctor will perform a physical exam. This exam will look at:
- Muscle control and movement in the affected arm
- Sensation in the affected arm
- Grip strength in the hand of the affected arm
- Moro reflex (startle response) as it affects the arm
The doctor may also want to conduct medical imaging scans and other testing to get a better understanding of the injury. This could include:
- An X-ray to rule out collarbone fracture
- Nerve conduction study (NCS)
- Electromyogram (EMG)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Once they have an accurate diagnosis, they can recommend a treatment plan that fits the severity of your infant’s injury. In most cases, conservative treatment is effective. This focuses on splinting and physical therapy to help the baby maintain and build strength and range of motion while the nerves have time to heal.
Severe injuries may require surgery and cause lifelong impairment in rare cases.
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Erb’s Palsy Lawsuits
If your doctor or another medical care professional used an improper technique or too much force pulling your baby’s arm during delivery and now your infant has Erb’s palsy, you may have grounds to pursue damages through a medical malpractice birth injury lawsuit. Doctors have a duty to provide an acceptable standard of care, and forceful pulling may be an example of medical negligence.
If you believe your newborn suffers from Erb’s palsy because of the actions of a negligent doctor or other health care provider, the Birth Injury Lawyers Group can help. You will be connected with an attorney who knows how forceful arm pulling during birth can lead to Erb’s Palsy, and practices medical malpractice law in your state for a free case review. Call today at 1-800-222-9529.