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What Is Erb’s Palsy?

What Is Erb’s Palsy?Giving birth to a baby is supposed to be a happy occasion, filled with excitement. If your baby sustains an injury before or during delivery, however, what should be joyous can quickly become nerve-wracking. One such birth injury is a brachial plexus injury.

The brachial plexus is a collection of nerves located above the shoulder where the neck joins with the fifth and sixth cranial nerves. These nerves control feeling and movement in the upper limbs. According to recent research, “For every 1000 live births, 0.5 to 3 brachial plexus birth injuries occur in the United States. Nearly thirty percent of those with brachial plexus birth injury (BPBI) have permanent neurological deficits or impairments.”

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury that causes paralysis to the nerves in the upper arm. It often occurs during a difficult birth, in which the child suffers shoulder dystocia, a condition where the child’s anterior shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone during birth. Erb’s palsy involves injury to the upper nerves. A more severe version of this condition – global brachial plexus palsy – affects both the upper and lower nerves.

Infants who sustain this injury are not able to move their upper arms or shoulders, but they may have the ability to move their fingers. The more severe forms of this injury can debilitate the entire trunk, preventing the spinal column from sending signals through the nerves to the limbs.

Causes of Erb’s Palsy

The conditions leading to Erb’s palsy usually include:

  • Too much pulling on the infant. Doctors sometimes help the baby through the birth canal by pulling the infant. However, applying too much force may cause injury to the brachial plexus. This injury occurs more frequently when a large baby passes through a small canal.
  • Difficult birth angle. When the baby travels through the birth canal at an unusual angle, such as with the head on one side as someone from the birthing team pulls the arm on the other, damage to the brachial plexus may result.
  • Breech position birth. The birth of the baby born in the breech position may involve pulling the arms of the baby back over the head. If a medical professional pulls too hard, force can impose excessive stress on the brachial plexus, causing potential damage. The baby’s shoulder may be dislocated in extreme circumstances.

Risk factors for developing Erb’s Palsy

Any type of stretching or lateral traction of the infant’s head or neck during birth enhances the risk of brachial plexus damage. Shoulder dystocia multiplies the risk by a factor of three. Additional risk factors for the development of Erb’s palsy birth injury include:

  • Large infant body
  • Excessive birth weight of the infant
  • More than one hour for the second stage of labor
  • Vacuum or forceps extraction tool used to during birth
  • Excessive or abnormal maternal weight
  • Small maternal body
  • Malformed pelvis
  • Prior children diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, shoulder dystocia, or other brachial injuries

The consequences of this birth injury can range from deficiencies in muscle control, motor skills, and sensation to lifelong paralysis. Medical practitioners who fail to recognize the early warning signs mentioned above and fail to order a C-section (or consider other options) may be held liable for subsequent injuries to the infant.

If your child has developed Erb’s palsy, or sustained a birth injury due to medical negligence, you and your baby deserve a team who will fight for you. At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, our Georgia birth injury attorneys may be able to help. Please call our law office in Atlanta today at 404.998.8847, in Savannah at 912.417.3774, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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