There are many problems that can arise during tense medical situations like labor and delivery, one of which is shoulder dystocia, which happens to about 0.25 to 1% of all live births in the United States every year. Shoulder dystocia is a condition common among babies with high birth weights in which one of the baby’s shoulders gets stuck behind the pubic bone of the mother, hence making childbirth difficult. This situation is considered to be an obstetric emergency that requires quick thinking and careful action on the part of the health care providers so that they may be able to avoid any injury on the mother and the baby.
Most of the time, shoulder dystocia can be remedied using some maneuvers done by experienced physicians. However, there are certain times that a physician fails to properly maneuver the shoulders of the baby, thus resulting to severe birth injuries that can have life-changing effects.
One of the major complications resulting from this condition is a brachial plexus injury known as Erb’s palsy. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves innervating the shoulder area and the upper extremities. If the obstetrician fails to properly maneuver the shoulder of the baby with shoulder dystocia, the brachial plexus will be torn, resulting to nerve damage and partial or complete paralysis of the baby’s involved arm.
The good news about Erb’s palsy is that majority of the babies who acquired this condition, either because of childbirth or too much pulling of the doctor, usually recover within six to 24 months. But then, 10% of Erb’s palsy sufferers have to contend with the effects of their condition for the rest of their lives. Erb’s palsy can cause loss of muscle control on the affected arm, decreased sensation, a limp and atrophied arm, and possible partial or complete paralysis. They will need to undergo multiple surgeries and physical therapies to correct the condition.
Even those who have recovered from Erb’s palsy will still need a lot of physical therapies for their damaged joints. Of course, the disfigurement caused by this condition can also hinder the emotional and social development of the child.
Medical malpractice suits can be charged if the doctor is proven to not provide the standard of care in medicine. A doctor should be able to anticipate shoulder dystocia even before labor, since constant monitoring of the fetus during pregnancy will already show if the fetus is too large to pass into the birth canal. Ignoring this risk factor will constitute medical malpractice.