Danger at Birth: The Risks of Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

If you are contemplating having children, or if someone in your family is pregnant, you may want to educate yourself about birth injuries, which are not often discussed in books or at visits to the doctor. Injuries to the set of nerves called the brachial plexus are not rare; it’s estimated that 1 to 3 babies out of 1,000 births suffer some form of injury to this nerve complex.

Of course, many births are happily uneventful, with perfectly healthy babies the end result. But certain risk factors can make the possibility of a brachial plexus birth injury that arises from shoulder dystocia more likely. Shoulder dystocia can occur when the mother’s pubic bone impedes the baby’s shoulder, stopping the normal birth process. The situation is anxiety-provoking for everyone involved, including the doctor or other attending medical professional, who will need to use additional ways to maneuver the baby in order for it to emerge from the birth canal. Sometimes these maneuvers can create injuries.

What are the Maternal Warning Signs?

The possibility of a birth emergency arising from shoulder dystocia is likely to be increased if certain risk factors are present in the mother or the pregnancy:

  • Fetal macrosomia, or an unusually large infant (over 8 lbs. 14 oz.)
  • Gestational diabetes or a history of diabetes in the mother
  • Maternal obesity or large weight gain during pregnancy
  • Maternal smallness or shortness
  • Maternal pelvis that is flat or contracted
  • Infant is overdue (pregnancy longer than 40 weeks)
  • Prolonged first or second stages of labor
  • Infant is in the breech (feet first) position.

Some risk factors that can be linked to previous pregnancies are:

  • A previous birth in which shoulder dystocia occurred
  • Maternal history of large babies
  • Most recent birth was eight or more years previous.

Additional Risks at Time of Delivery

A number of factors can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia at the time of delivery:

  • The use of vacuum extraction, forceps, or other tools to remove the baby from the birth canal.
  • Use of an epidural. The loss of sensation means the mother cannot feel the natural urge to push, and could result in the infant’s slipping into a position that is awkward for the birth process.
  • Use of labor-inducing drugs. It is not absolutely proven, but there appears to be a link between using labor-inducing drugs and an increased risk of shoulder dystocia.

It is important to remember that shoulder dystocia can occur in the absence of all the risk factors we have listed. Depending on the circumstances, medical negligence can sometimes be the reason for such injuries.

How Can I Reduce the Chances of Shoulder Dystocia and Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?

If you feel concerned about the possibility of shoulder dystocia or brachial plexus birth injuries, one of the most important things you can do is to educate yourself about the topics. Additionally, communicate with your doctor or medical professional concerning the following issues:

  • Discuss whether you have any risk factors and, if so, ask about the steps you can take to reduce them. Following the proper diet if you have diabetes is one such example.
  • Discuss the kind of birth environment you plan to use, and how it could affect your baby should you have risk factors. For example, if you think greater access to emergency equipment and personnel might be better for your situation, you might consider giving birth in a hospital rather than planning to do so at home.
  • Ask whether it would be appropriate to bring a practitioner on board who specializes in high-risk births.
  • Ask your medical professional about their own patient experiences involving shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus birth injuries.
  • Ask about any topic that causes you concern or anxiety, such as the possibility of needing a C-section or how fetal weight might be estimated pre-birth in order to prepare for fetal macrosomia.

Family-owned. Family-focused.

Is your child suffering from a brachial plexus birth injury such as Erb’s palsy or one caused by shoulder dystocia? At the Louthian Law Firm, we handle birth injury cases throughout South Carolina and have extensive experience in all areas of personal injury and malpractice law. We’re committed to putting that experience to work for you, offering the personal service and understanding that families in crisis need. If your child has experienced a birth injury, it is important that you speak with us. We always offer free consultations with no further obligation on your part. To schedule your case evaluation, call the Louthian Law Firm today toll free at 1-803-454-1200, or use our online contact form.